March. 20, 2018
Written By: Rosemary Chen (陳昱安)
Photo Credit: Vader Lin (林書玄)
Mr. Sridharan Madhusudhanan, Director General of the India Taipei Association, delivered a superb talk on March 20 to students and faculty at National Taiwan University’s monthly Ambassador Day. The Provisional Office of NTU’s International College hosted the event.
“It is a rare opportunity to learn about India first hand,” said Tay Jia Shivian (戴佳瑄), a second-year medical student from Malaysia, who arrived a half an hour early for the event.
Sitting at the same table, Levin Lin (林吉辰) agreed, “There are so many stereotypes about India, so I want to hear what it’s really like.” The first-year political science student said he had been interested in diplomacy since high school. He commented that, “India is a country experiencing rapid economic growth and, in my opinion, Taiwan is economically marginalized, so I’m excited to hear about the possibilities of bilateral trade from Mr. Madhusudhanan.”
Political and economic topics aside, the two students were also keen to understand gender and class issues in the world’s largest democracy.
“You must recognize India as one of the most important countries in the world,” Professor Kuo Hung-Chi (郭鴻基), NTU’s Vice President of Academic Affairs, observed in his welcoming remarks. “In Taiwan, we should learn to make friends with India,” he added.
Introducing Mr. Madhusudhanan, Dr. William A. Stanton, formerly the Director of American Institute in Taiwan and now an NTU Professor, noted that Mr. Madhusudhanan has served in Taiwan since August 2016 and had earlier been posted to Washington, D.C, twice to Beijing, and also to Hong Kong, all key posts for India. He commented, “You know how highly a diplomat is regarded by his government based on the importance of the cities to which they are posted.”
When Mr. Madhusudhanan stood up to speak, he jokingly promised to keep the presentation brief, because “I know how it is for students in the morning,” winning chuckles from the audience. He said the topic of his speech was “Why India?” and would be centered on the “Mutual importance of relations between India and Taiwan.”
Mr. Madhusudhanan asked how many students in the audience had visited India. Aside from the international students from India studying at NTU, only two local students raised their hands. Indicating that he wanted to encourage more visits, the Ambassador explained that his presentation would focus on the visible and invisible cultural links, the foreign policies, and the business leverage points between Taiwan and India.
“Even if you have the links and the logic, if you don’t leverage it, you’re wasting it,” he said.
Mr. Madhusudhanan pointed out that the more “visible links” between the two countries are Buddhism, temples, yoga, and meditation. Some links, however, were less obvious than others. As an example, he told the story of how the Indian movie “Dangal” unexpectedly broke a box office record in Taiwan.
“This movie is about an underdog who faces overwhelming odds, but nonetheless overcomes them and achieves success which the world thought was impossible,” Mr. Madhusudhanan explained. Taiwan and India were both in this situation, he observed, pointing to the underlying “invisible links” between the two countries, which made the Indian movie such a hit in Taiwan.
“When someone says, you cannot do it, you don’t argue, you just do it — that is the spirit that connects India and Taiwan.” He pointed to post-World War II India, where over 90 percent of its population was illiterate but the government gave voting rights to all of its citizens, surprising the rest of the world.
Aside from the less noticeable hidden links, Mr. Madhusudhanan also highlighted logical reasons for a closer bilateral partnership, specifically with regard to foreign policy and demographics.
“Taiwan has the New Southbound Policy and India has the Act East policy,” both directing business investments toward each other. Given India’s young population and Taiwan’s aging population, the two made a perfect match for labor supply and demand. “This is another reason why you should engage with India more.”
(According to the India Taipei Association website, bilateral trade between India and Taiwan reached US$6.35 billion in 2017, a 27 percent increase from 2016. Indian exports to Taiwan were worth US$3.06 billion last year, with naphtha and refined copper accounting for nearly half of the trade. Taiwanese exports, mainly consisting of polyvinyl chloride, totaled US$3.3 billion.)
Mr. Madhusudhanan then turned to his Assistant Director General, Mr. Yashbir Singh, asking “How many people took the exam with you aspiring to become a diplomat?” “About a million,” Singh replied. “And how many people were admitted?” the Ambassador continued. “40 people,” the Assistant General Director said. The astonished audience loudly applauded.
Mr. Madhusudhanan said that this was just one example to demonstrate that in India, “To compete with so many people you need to be creative and innovative to grow.” He then gave two more examples of innovation in India, both of which had been featured on international news channels.
The first was about Arunachalam Muruganantham, “A school drop-out from a poor family in southern India,” wrote BBC news, who revolutionized menstrual health for rural women in developing countries by inventing a simple machine they can use to make cheap sanitary pads. The second story was about India successfully sending a rocket to Mars in 2013 at a cost far below any previous launches. “Why India’s Mars Mission is so Cheap — and Thrilling,” headlines observed.
“India and Taiwan should join hands to give something to the world,” Mr. Madhusudhanan concluded. Both countries had the ability to innovate for the needs of ordinary people instead of just looking to address the demands of the top percentage of the world.
Mr. Madhusudhanan noted that many Taiwanese had asked him how to approach India, which seemed impossibly large and complex, had the second largest population in the world, and more than 15 main languages. Mr. Madhusudhanan said his advice was always to focus on just one sector first. “Think of it like a library. You wouldn’t try to read all the books in a library at once, but instead you would pick a section to find your book.”
“NTU is the best university in Taiwan, but our students do not perceive India as their first priority,” Professor Wang An-Bang (王安邦) from NTU’s Institute of Applied Mechanics observed. Far more students choose North America and Europe for exchange programs or graduate degrees and vice versa for Indian students, he explained. The professor asked Mr. Madhusudhanan for his suggestions on how to “attract these students to their second priority, India and Taiwan?” “Go for the niche market,” Mr. Madhusudhanan replied. Invite students from second-tier India universities to visit, and invite Taiwanese students to visit top-tier universities in India.
In the audience, Ananta Kar, a Global MBA student from India said he chose to study in Taiwan because he was already working in Asia and wanted to test his start-up prototype here. “The living cost is low, very ideal for start-ups,” he explained.
This school year, 1,034 degree-students from India were enrolled in Taiwanese universities and 144 were here on an exchange program. The numbers have grown dramatically and doubled from only five years ago, and most students are concentrated in science and technology-oriented universities, according to the Ministry of Education’s public data.
Mr. Madhusudhanan said one of his key priorities during his posting in Taiwan is to grow the number of Indian students studying in Taiwan to 10,000.