‘For India to rise, it must don the hat of a monkey and balance Russia, China and the US with their different temperaments’.
Panaji: The Sino-Russian comradeship has come a long way over the last 30 years. China’s relationship with Russia has improved in a step-by-step manner. The relationship between the offices in Beijing and Moscow continues to develop organically through economic and trade cooperation, defense dialogues, and security cooperation within the Central Asia region.
The Central Asian region has become one of the strategic areas of Sino-Russia relationship. Both Beijing and Moscow have been constantly renegotiating their positions in the region to avoid collision and potential conflicts. The partnership between China and Russia is based on common interests politically, military and economically. The growing comradeship between China and Russia stems from the need for a shared responsibility for the security and stability in that region.
Russia and China pursue different goals in the Central Asian region. Russia, reportedly, often opts for a collective policy to consolidate its political power through the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). China, on the other hand, prefers to use a bilateral approach to secure its economic interests, energy security and advance the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). China recognizes that Russia is important to the success of BRI in Central Asia.
Strategic relationships between Russia and China were foretold by the creation of the Shanghai Five Grouping, a direct outcome of the border agreement between China, Russia and the Soviet successor states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan. This led to agreements on military Confidence Building Measures and in 2001, with the participation of Uzbekistan the mechanism took on the role of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). The SCO doubled as a security as well as a developmental outfit bringing Russia, China and the Central Asian states closer. It was aimed at reassuring the Central Asian states facing the threat of terrorism, separatism and extremism.
In 2007, the SCO linked up with the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO).The CSTO currently comprises Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan and has helped various governments to maintain power in the face of domestic protests. These measures came into play as a defensive outcome to NATO’s expansion and the presence of the US in Afghanistan.
On a bilateral call between Beijing and Moscow on 29 December 2020, Xi Jinping insisted that they would work “unswervingly” to develop an ever-closer partnership, and that “strategic cooperation between China and Russia can effectively resist any attempt to suppress and divide the two countries”. Chinese president Xi Jinping refers to Vladimir Putin as a “best friend”. In recent times, Putin has been hailing the relationship as an “pleased to say that Russian-China relations have reached an unprecedented level. It is global partnership and strategic corporation. ”
Russia and China moved closer because they felt alienated by Europe and the US. Russia was put under sanctions for its involvement in the Ukranian political crisis five-years ago. The US has also criticized for assisting the Assad regime in Syria in 2015. On the other hand, China’s ties with the US have deteriorated over the years, especially under the Trump administration. It worsened with the Covid-19 global pandemic and the US allegations against China over the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 being the virology laboratory in Wuhan in China, which started with Trump terming it a “Chinese virus” and now the Biden-administration demanding accountability from China over the global pandemic.
Trade partnerships between Russia and China saw a growth of 25% in 2018 to hit a record of US$ 108 billion, according to figures reported by Moscow. China is Russia’s top trading partner; Russia is China’s tenth-largest trading partner. The majority of Russian exports to China are raw materials, including energy-related products. Most of Chinese exports to Russia are equipment, machinery, and consumer goods. The Power of Siberia pipeline connecting Russia to China, due to be completed this year, is reportedly valued at $400bn. Other strategic projects include energy and infrastructure projects, as well as the construction of a passenger aircraft. China foreign direct investment into Russia hit $140m in 2017. Chinese companies are investing heavily in Russia’s Lake Baikal region, sparking a backlash from locals over the impact on the environment and fears about Chinese influence. Such is the comradeship between Russia and China that telecom company MTS will allow controversial Chinese tech giant Huawei to develop a 5G network in Russa. The US, on the other hand, claimed Huawei posed a national security risk and banned US firms from cooperating with the Chinese firms.
So where does India fit in the growing closeness between China and Russia, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic? Will the Covid-19 pandemic and the US’ anti-China stand on the origin of the SARs-CoV-2 be similar to estrangement of the Indo-China relationship after the Indo-US nuclear deal which took China by surprise, since it exhibited a strategic shift towards India by the US, which seemed to be not in the interest of China? India and China continue to have border disputes that have not been resolved; simultaneously, India has been slowly but steadily solidifying its military ties with the United States, without becoming an overt ally of the US government.
Russia, India and China have been closely aligned since the early 1990s to balance the US power in the region. In June 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired the Osaka informal summit of the RIC and the analysis of his statements at that meeting indicates that India sees value in collaborating with Russia and China not just on free-trade, but also counter-terrorism.
Though China and India do not overtly share a heartening comradeship like Russia, it appears to covertly work with each other as allies with common interests in the region and globally. Therefore, India has not taken on China as the US has done over the Covid-19 pandemic. India has certainly supported investigations into the origin of the coronavirus, but it has not blamed China, yet. India has, as a counter measure to the Galwan Valley conflict, blocked most influential Chinese apps in India. However, it has not burned its bridges at all with China and it should not. India’s approach is one of cautious diplomacy.
After the Covid-19 pandemic, some in the world would like to see China declared as a rogue nation, but other than the US, no other nation has taken on the Chinese on this issue. That’s because of the growing global influence of China and reducing US influence. Russia and India are both not in a position to challenge China’s global hegemony at this point of time; it is better to maintain cautious diplomacy. They should wait and observe the game being played out by China and the US. They must only step-in if the nature of actions of China or US conflict with the interests of their nation directly or indirectly.
China’s cozying up to the Taliban is a concern for India, because China has been cozy with Pakistan for several years. There is all probability that China would use the Taliban just as it uses Pakistan to stir tensions around the borders of India. China needs to keep India busy in some strain or conflict along the border. While it plans its economic, political and socio strategies in and for India. China would want to isolate India and bend it into submission of China’s dominion. It wants to ensure China exerts its influence across Asia and Central Asia regions.
China is aggressive, so is Russia. India, on the other hand, has a “slowly” approach to resolving conflict. Sometimes the strategies are effective, sometimes they are not. India must remember that China is not an ally of India right now, but it can be an ally and should be an ally, if India wants to be a nation of mettle in the future.
For India to rise, it must don the hat of a monkey and balance Russia, China and the US with their different temperaments. Second, India must demonstrate a cooperative posture towards Russia, China and the US, which has the capacity of negatively affecting Indian interests. India must at all times keep Russia in good humour and not allow Russians to drift towards China. This will maintain balance in Asia and Central Asia, but most of all China will not turn aggressor with Russia and India in a strong bond of friendship. India needs to project itself as an Eurasian and an Indo-Pacific power and as such have equities in groupings like the Quad and the SCO.
Savio Rodrigues is the founder and editor-in-chief of Goa Chronicle.