Deepening Russia-China ties will impact South Asian geopolitics; India needs to remain vigilant

China, however, continues with its efforts to restrict India in the South Asian region. Pakistan is virtually China’s colony and in recent years China has redoubled its infamous endeavours to rope in Bangladesh in its area of influence. 

Image
Representational Photo (Photo: Xinuha)

Global geopolitics is indeed a dynamic phenomenon with regional and international disruptions impacting its contours with varied implications for the stakeholders affected. Russia and China, which for decades have sustained a complex relationship, are now seeking to deepen their ties which is likely to influence the existing global order, primarily the US, European Union and, of course, India.

Last month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and some other officials visited China ostensibly to repair ties between the two powerful nations.  However, just last fortnight Russian President Vladimir Putin, amid the ongoing over two year old Russian-Ukraine War, paid a visit to China and met  Chinese President Xi Jinping. This 43rd meeting between these two leaders pledged a “new era” of partnership between them. That its outcome would be primarily directed against the common foe of both these nations, the US, both militarily and in its economic impact,  is reasonably clear. This meeting also marked the 75th anniversary of  China-Russian diplomatic relations and reiterated "strategic cooperation" and a "comprehensive partnership" between the two nations.

Russia, after its unjustified and unwarranted February 2022 invasion of neighbouring Ukraine, faces increasing economic sanctions from the West and requires the assistance and cooperation of nations to keep itself economically resilient to bear the burgeoning costs of the war and keep its economy on rails. China, with its deep pockets, coupled with its varied endeavours confronting the US, thus fills the bill admirably.

Russia needs China

Amazingly, Russia appears now to tow the China line and displays no hesitation in playing the 'junior partner' to China as long as the latter assists Russia in weathering the economic impact of sanctions by the West. The latter is Russia’s leading trade partner while Russia is only number six for China. Trade between these two nations has been on the increase with their bilateral trade touching a whooping 240 billion US  dollars. While economic sanctions by the West have impacted both nations, Russia has been affected much more than China and thus Russia needs China more than ever before.  

China is a major buyer of Russian oil and also a supplier of military components to Russia. Michael Kugelman, South Asia expert at the Wilson Center, has recently opined that “ Russia will want to do everything it can to keep China close, especially as it is facing the very real threat of global isolation particularly from more consequential powers.” He added “ If the war in Ukraine continues to rage on, Moscow will need economic support. But it doesn’t have that many friends who can provide the kind of support it needs, China being one of the few.” 

However, notwithstanding the current bonhomie, the Chinese are wary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine as for the first time the US has blacklisted nearly 50 Chinese companies for dealing with Russia. The US has also taken some steps to restrict China’s global trade and technological presence thus driving China and Russia to get closer to confront the US and West’s trade wars against them. In 2023 Russia overtook Saudi Arabia as China’s main oil supplier. 

Overall, China is content as long as Russia contributes to its economy and the war in Ukraine helps it to discredit US diplomacy. In varied ways, China is combating US hegemony as part of its long-term strategy. In addition, Xi Jinping is also trying to mend fences with the EU and drive a wedge between the US and the EU, especially in matters of trade.  

Though Russia and China appear to strengthen their ties, the Russians could not have forgotten the old border disputes between them and China. They would also recall China’s debt-trap diplomacy and financial handling with many nations China is engaged with. Nevertheless, Russia is not the Soviet Union and. in the current times, Russia’s financial commitments push them to warm up their relations, both mutually and globally, with an assertive China.

Traditional India-Russia ties

Apart from the US, another nation on China’s radar to be constantly undermined is India. For the last 60 years or so, Russia has been India’s major military supplier for her armed forces and even now continues to fulfil a major chunk of India’s military needs. During the wars India has fought in the past Russia faithfully discharged its business commitments, unlike the US and UK, which had imposed sanctions on India. India is naturally concerned that, owing to the growing economic linkages between China and Russia, the former does not influence Russia to stop supplying vital requirements for the Indian Armed Forces.

For the last 60 years or so, Russia has been the major and faithful supplier of defence equipment and military platforms for the Indian Armed Forces. According to the SIPRI figures, between 2013-2017  Russia accounted for nearly 62 percent of India’s arms purchases but between 2018-2022  these sales dipped to 45 percent or so with France emerging as the second largest arms supplier for India. However, India and Russia have institutionalized their military cooperation for the period 2021-2031 by signing a pact which also includes cooperation in research and development and licensed production. Currently, technical cooperation is being witnessed apart from other weaponry in bilateral projects like T-90 tanks, Su-30MkI, MiG-29K, Kamov and above all the Brahmos-guided missiles which are being improved in various characteristics. Recently, India has also commenced production of AK-203 rifles. Russia is also making efforts to enter into India’s forays in the selection of its Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft and the future production of fifth-generation fighters. 

Nevertheless, India is chary of Chinese influence to disrupt its purchase of the already contracted S-400 air defence systems and later the S-500 from Russia. India will be looking forward to cooperating with Russia in the development and acquisition of hi-tech weapons including nuclear-powered submarines, cyber warfare, AI and space warfare etc. 

 Apart from military cooperation, both nations, reportedly, are engaged in cooperation in metallurgy, mechanical engineering products and pharmaceuticals. In addition, Russia is now catering to around 35 percent of India’s oil needs from a meagre 3 percent earlier. 

Though the Russians will not be too happy with India now trying to diversify its arms purchases, recently Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that they respected India’s decision to look for arms purchases from sources beyond Russia. Moscow continues to support New Delhi's quest for permanent membership of the UN Security Council. India too has refrained from condemning the unwarranted  Russian invasion of Ukraine, an example of quid pro quo in international relations.

China's South Asian forays

China, however, continues with its efforts to restrict India in the South Asian region. It's making all-out efforts to employ its famed debt-trap policy to lure India’s neighbours away from India.   Pakistan is virtually China’s colony and in recent years China has redoubled its infamous endeavours to rope in Bangladesh in its area of influence. Thus in the immediate future, Indian diplomacy will have to utilize all its genius to ensure South Asia does not succumb to China’s machinations.

India must remain ever vigilant in ensuring that the growing China-Russia bonhomie does not adversely impact it. For that India will have to maintain its traditional cordial relations with Russia. This aspect will have to be substantially factored into the newly elected Indian government’s foreign policies.

(The author, one of India’s leading military experts, is a war veteran who had raised the country's Defence Intelligence Agency. Views are personal)

Post a Comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.