Growing Bonhomie between China & Russia and New Delhi’s Interests

Russia-China ties are a critical determinant in Indian Foreign Policy calculus.
Keywords: Interdependence | Russia | China | India | Communist | Global Politics | USSR | Defence | Military | Border | Ladakh | Covid-19 | Pandemic

The current global scenario marked by growing interdependence between Russia-China may prove detrimental to India’s interests. Some international analysts are also apprehensive about changing dynamics in the relations between Moscow and Beijing. Many perceive them as moving towards the alliance. There are several precedents that give credence to this notion.

The current global scenario marked by growing interdependence between Russia-China may prove detrimental to India’s interests.

Tracing the Sino-Russian relations, we find that both have nurtured close relations over decades, since Soviet times despite the rocky start soon after the foundation of the People’s Republic of China by Mao Zedong and the often bitter rivalry during the cold war when the ruling parties in both States competed for control of the worldwide communist movement. After minor border disputes during the early 1960s and a brief border war in 1969, this animosity began to dwindle and the rapport between the two improved significantly after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Whereas Russian enmity with China had worldwide fallouts, so does their partnership today. Both equations have had an impact on India. Russia is bound to tilt towards China because of sanctions imposed by the US for its intervention in Eastern Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea and later for allegedly interfering in the US presidential elections.

Whereas Russian enmity with China had worldwide fallouts, so does their partnership today. Both equations have had an impact on India. 

Indo-Russian ties also have a long history, spanning seven decades. India’s mindful decision of not joining any bloc of nations and maintaining an equidistant posture during the cold war, gives it a unique identity in global politics. On the one hand USSR became a major arm supplier and also supported New Delhi’s local, regional and non-aligned policies wholeheartedly and on the other the US gave India a large amount of foreign aid that assisted in the modernization of the educational system and also helped to launch the Green Revolution.

All along, the USSR showed greater affinity with India and was a trusted ally in various trying circumstances. New Delhi reciprocated by supporting the Russian military industry after the breakup of the Soviet Union but such defence sector cooperation has not gone beyond arms transfer, as significant economic exchanges did not take off outside of G-to-G programmes despite many efforts. While the Indo-Russia Defence cooperation has grown in some areas and lagged in some others, the strongest pillar is still the strategic partnership of the defence sector.

After adopting a more free-market-oriented economy, India’s ties with the US improved, which opened the door to defence cooperation but India continued to purchase most of its hardware from Russia. Although India has tried very hard to diversify its sources of military supplies, Russia still contributes more than 60% of Indian defence equipment and India needs a regular and dependable supply of spare parts for its armed forces.

Transfer of military technology has been an important component of Russia-China relationship as well but many other ties have been created between the two, based on cross-border trade and Chinese investments in Russia through its cheque book diplomacy. On the other hand, even today Russia continues to support India in terms of sale & transfer of defence technology and also the Co-development of new projects in areas where Western countries refused to share technology. Although, now Russian no longer offers ‘friendly’ prices for deals and the costs for some of its products have risen sharply.

Moreover, Russia’s drift towards China is also an effect of various sanctions imposed by the US and European countries etc. in the fields of finances, energy and defence sector. The declining oil prices also affected the Russian economy significantly resulting in a financial crisis. Subsequently, Chinese help in the form of finances, export in various items, etc., proved to be a major revitalizing agent for the Russian economy. In a multilateral format, closer political ties between Russia and China were officialised by the creation of the Shanghai Five Grouping subsequently known as Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

The USSR remained officially neutral during the Sino-India war of 1962, when New Delhi already shared bonds of friendship with the Soviet Union and was in urgent need of help. Similarly, Russia did not take sides during the ongoing India-China border tensions in the Eastern Ladakh in the Himalayas. 

Russia as well as China have shaped their bilateral relations according to their mutual needs. The question that remains is what place does India have in Russia’s global strategy? Russia, as an influential diplomatic actor, can play a key role in diffusing the ongoing border tension between India and China. In context of the India-China border dispute, the USSR remained officially neutral during the Sino-India war of 1962, when New Delhi already shared bonds of friendship with the Soviet Union and was in urgent need of help. Similarly, Russia did not take sides during the ongoing India-China border tensions in the Eastern Ladakh in the Himalayas. 

However, the Covid-19 pandemic has shaped changes in the power equation. China today finds itself somewhat isolated in the world. Its economy is not performing very well not just due to the pandemic but as also a consequence of major trade tariffs and restrictions on technology transfers announced by the US and the European Union on Chinese exports. There is unrest in Hong Kong, and also rumblings inside the mainland itself.

This time around, China may need Russia more, giving some space for India and Russia to manoeuvre in tandem according to their mutual interest to balance out Beijing’s preponderance.

The outbreak of the pandemic has affected the bilateral ties between Russia and China, though not stated by any of them overtly. China, therefore, is going through a phase of uncertainty and no longer enjoys as strong a position as it did until last year. This time around, China may need Russia more, giving some space for India and Russia to manoeuvre in tandem according to their mutual interest to balance out Beijing’s preponderance.

1 comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Avatar

Neha Tiwari

Ms Neha Tiwari is a Research Scholar in the Department of Political Science, University of Allahabad.

View all posts