(This is a reprint from NewsBred)
It’s not as much a matter of choice for India as it is for Russia. India media might be scripting a Russia factor in fractured Indo-China relations but you ought to know better.
India’s defence minister Rajnath Singh is in Moscow. The foreign ministers of two nations joined their Chinese counterpart for a virtual dialogue on Tuesday. Both are pre-arranged engagements, not an offshoot of Galwan Valley. Yet hopes are injected that Russia would play a peacemaker. I suggest you examine the evidence than suffer a hangover which is a druggie’s profile the morning after.
Sure, Russia is India’s biggest defence exporter. The two leaders Vladimir Putin and Narendra Modi share a rare warmth. They have reset economic ties to the extent that the target of $30 billion is revised to $50 billion by 2025. The two have a strategic partnership. Both need each other for trade corridors. Both have stood by each other on global forums. The two have not stopped liking each other in last seven decades.
But Russia is no big brother to India. India’s economy is more than twice the size of Russia. India’s arm buys are falling vis-à-vis Russia and leapfrogging with Israel, France, the United States etc. Tourism isn’t quite booming between the two nations.
On the contrary, Russia can’t do without China. Its’ trade with China is worth over a hundred billion dollars. It has a $400 billion energy deal with China. Both share a global vision in Indo-Pacific even though Russia, on its own, has little to lose on that sea expanse. Both see in the United States an implacable rival. Both are looking after each other’s backs. You help us mate if submarines snarl in South China Sea. We look after you if NATO rolls down tanks in Eastern Europe. No formal pact, just a wink in the eye is good enough.
So, Russia could use its good offices to bring the two Asian adversaries on the table. But it can’t prevent a martial discord turning into a divorce. It doesn’t have that bargaining chip. If it was valued this big by China, the latter would’ve taken Russians into confidence before the Galwan Valley misadventure. And if they did take Moscow into confidence, and still went ahead, it’s worse.
It’s for Russia to plot its future in the 21st century. Its present woes began when it took control of Crimea after a referendum in 2014. The US-led sanctions in its wake are crippling.
It could choose to remember that India defended the referendum in Crimea while China didn’t.
It could turn a blind eye, if it wants to, China going big in elbowing it out in Central Asia which is so, so vital to Moscow.
It could choose to be a junior partner to China or retain the instincts which are genetic in a superpower.
It could ignore–if it could afford –the role India could play in linking the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) with Asian mass through Chabahar Port in Iran, now in India’s control.
It could miss, if it wants to, the critical role of India in the International North-South Trade Corridor (INSTC), a 7,200-km network of ship, rail and road which frees up Russian transportation across Europe, Central Asia, Armenia, Iran, Afghanistan up to India.
Nations today are guided by their own interests. Two countries could converge on one issue and diverge significantly on the other. Russia discounts China’s role in the devastating Covid-19 spread on global forums but it has also shut its borders against China. Russia is indeed India’s friend for all seasons but it doesn’t stop them from selling arms to Pakistan and joining our arch rivals in military exercises since Afghanistan is vital. India too won’t let Russia come in the way of its growing convergence with the United States. But its adamant to buy S400 anti-missile system from Russia next year even though the United States is threatening crippling sanctions. There are camps, sure, but relationships are more fluid, unlike Cold War era. Look at Turkey, a member of NATO, but blackmailing Europe now and then on refugees.
So rejoice Russia is neutral but don’t expect them in your corner against China. Besides India itself is a power of considerable hulk. India’s issue with China won’t have a mediator. New Delhi would have to pack a punch of its own against China. Russia is no parent and India no child even though China decidedly is a bully. Call the bully out on your own. India could do it.
Indian media seeking Russia’s intervention is comical, if not tragic. On one hand you detest the United States offering mediation; on the other you seek one from Russia. It’s tragic for it betrays a sense of inferiority, a colonial hangover, which refuses to acknowledge India could hold its own. It distorts the immediacy India needs in its military preparedness. It injects a false sense of security. It lets India down in its own eyes.
(This is a reprint from NewsBred ).
Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, finishes his three-day visit to India today and a beaming him has made it to the front pages of all the dailies. Don’t be fooled by it. India has moved away from the United States big time.
It’s not a zero-sum game and hands would still be shaken and pictures clicked but the United States wants to swoop on India’s strategic autonomy while Prime Minister Narendra Modi is determined to protect his own turf.
India won’t let go on five squadrons of S-400 missiles from Russia nor would it back down on Iran beyond a point as Modi looks to pivot India for 2050 when the United States would be just one of the great powers and confronted with the possible axis of Russia, India and China.
The United States sees Russia and China as rogue nations who are going broke to dominate Eurasia but neither sanctions against Russia nor tariff wars and threats against China are yielding much. Indeed, Russia and China are now joined at hips and enjoy a bonhomie not seen since the heady Communist days of 1950.
That India has firmly moved into the Russia-China orbit was tellingly visible in the recent Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan where Narendra Modi chose silence rather than condemnation of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Modi’s India has been an unequivocal critic of BRI but he didn’t say a word in protest against the Bishkek Declaration which praised BRI and bore the endorsement of assembled heads of states.
Modi didn’t praise BRI but he didn’t criticize it either in his own speech. Indeed, he evoked “Wuhan Spirit” to charm the Chinese. Tellingly, it didn’t elicit any sharp barb either from Xi Jinping or Vladimir Putin.
India, critically, has accepted Russia’s invitation to assist China in creating a “Polar Silk Road” in the Arctic Sea, a commercial shipping venture through Russia’s Northern Sea Route as part of the BRI. The project is worth trillions of dollars and would connect the two continents of Europe and Asia with sea. It would bring liquefied natural gas from central-northern Siberia to be delivered across Europe, Japan, South Korea and China of course.
Modi held bilateral meetings on the sidelines with Xi and Putin in Bishkek which is only one of many scheduled between the two leaders in the remaining months of 2019. Modi and Xi would meet thrice, besides an informal summit in India, probably in Varanasi. With Putin, it’s twice as many times in rest of 2019.
That Modi has decided to thumb his nose at the United States is visible on the revival of RIC (Russia, India, China) dialogue which the three nations have decided to hold at the very summit where G20 nations are meeting from Friday—Osaka, Japan. It sure would raise heckles from the US president Donald Trump who would also be present in Osaka.
Modi has been given a mandate by millions of Indians to lead the country on the path of growth and security. It’s only feasible when India pursues its interest with autonomy and not as a stooge of the United States, more so with a whimsical president like Donald Trump at the helm.
Alice Wells of the US State Department has recently outlined the Indo-Pacific strategy of the United States. Said Wells: “The US, alongside India, Japan, Australia and other trusted allies and partners will support the political and economic autonomy of the Indo-Pacific countries…We cannot allow China or any other country to subvert our partners through unsustainable push economies into unsustainable debt…” Yet, as far as India is concerned—as Modi outlined in Shangri-La Dialogue, “Indo-Pacific” is not a strategy.
The US is also offering the bait of including India in the US’ International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) which would give India a status equal to one of NATO allies. Along with the status would come the export of high-level military technologies including ballistic missiles, drones, nuclear weapons simulation tools and energy weapons. It’s unlikely India would fall for it given how easily US dumps such pacts—sample TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), climate deal of Paris and the nuclear deal with Iran.
The United States knows what the alliance between Russia, China and India would mean. Even a casual look at the geographical map is enough to convey the control these three nations would exercise over the landscape of Eurasia. In wooing India, US is banking too much on the bond of democracy and a commitment to liberal international order which came into being after World War II and had rules and institutions dominated by the United States.
Kiron Skinner of the US State Department has already stated that the US perceives its strategy against China as a “fight with a really different civilization.” India has no such issues. It understands that the global power balance and West’s control of it is on its last leg. China and India are coming on to their own as they have for most of human history. India would push for its strategic autonomy and it lies in opening up access to Iran, deepening military ties with an all-weather friend like Russia, bringing neighbours’ into its orbit and be China’s friend, now that the latter really needs it.
India also knows that it could no longer be ambivalent. The United States and China are polarizing the world and there is no middle ground left for anyone. It has to make a choice and one gets the feeling it already has. If the US wants to pass sanctions against those who go against its wishes, then so be it.
The Russia-India-China (RIC) meet of its foreign ministers in Moscow is unlikely to have thawed the freezing relations between two Asian giants, China and India.
The same is true of the simultaneous visit of India’s defence minister Manohar Parrikar to China where he met his Chinese counterpart Gen. Chang Wanguan and stated India attaches highest priority to its relationship with China.
Both China and India suffer from a trust deficit though the niggling issue is simple enough: Both China and India need to look at each other’s territorial claims on Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin plateau in a spirit of cooperation and resolve the long-standing dispute.
As a nation which stands to gain the most through India-China alliance, Russia could offer its own example: the Russian-Chinese borders were formalized in 2004 after 40 years of bad blood between the two nations.
The last fortnight has been particularly frosty: China blocked India’s move in United Nations to have Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief and allegedly Pathankot terror attack mastermind, Masood Azhar be designated as terrorist,
India, on their part, went ahead a signed an agreement with the United States on sharing military logistics in Indian Ocean, the area which is strategically and economically lifeline to Beijing.
But the RIC meet is unlikely to have much influence. Despite it being a foreign ministers’ conclave, it largely deals with the economic, and not security, issues.
The economic prospects of trade between India and China are mammoth. It’s already worth $100 billion and given their market and areas of strength, it holds immense possibility.
India could offer its Information Services strength and avail China’s expertise to build high-speed rail network in India. China’s excess production could also be easily absorbed within India.
India is extremely touch on matters of terrorism and finds itself regularly frustrated by China on international forums. Last year, China had blocked India’s bid to question Pakistan over the release of Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, a commander in Lashkar-e-Taiba, which had carried out the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks that claimed 160 lives.
A leaked cable of US State Department in 2010 had revealed that China had in the past blocked UN sanctions against Lashkar-e-Taiba and the al-Akhtar Trust (a charity front for Jaish-e-Mohammad). It had also blocked India’s request to list Syed Salahuddin, a terrorist wanted in relation to numerous Hizbul Mujahideen attacks.
Though China’s moves were procedural within the UN sanctions committee, it was in opposition to the stands of US, UK, France and Russia all of whom were willing to back India on the issue.
China has a history of shielding Pakistan-based terror groups from sanctions under resolution 1267 even though it hardly ever uses a veto—exercising it only 10 times in its 70-year history of UNSC. It parrots the same line in defence that Pakistan does: “Pakistan is a terrible victim of terrorism itself.”
Such acts hardly endear China to India. It also reveals the closeness between Pakistan and China in modern context. India feels hemmed in between its two nuclear-armed northern neighbours. All it is doing is to drive India into US’ arms which dread the prospects of close India-China relations.
It still is encouraging that RIC has shown its concern on terrorism and a willingness to use international forums, such as BRICS, SCO, East Asian summits and Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) to get the three nations closer.
Russia is keen to play a mediator’s role between China and India. It won’t be Asia’s century unless India and China draw closer to each other. Joint enterprises, preferential trade system and a common trade currency offer a huge opportunity.
China’s Great Silk Road project involves a huge territory—from Southeast Asia to the Caucasus. Russia, like India, isn’t yet a part of it even though a cooperation between the Silk Road and Russia-inspired Eurasian Eonomic Union exists.
There is a need to cool down the tempers from both sides. Says NewsBred columnist Shen Dingli: “China actually has many ways to hurt India. China could send an aircraft carrier to the Gwadar port in Pakistan. China had turned down the Pakistan offer to have military stationed in the country. If India forces China to do that,” there could be a threatening navy at India’s doorstep.