Opinion

China-Russia Vs US bloc: India in the middle?

Last week, I asserted in this column, “Russia, Ukraine and the West — India’s Delicate Balancing”, that India can no longer occupy the middle ground, nor can it play a balancing act in the compounding confrontation between the two blocs. New Delhi will have to take a call on which side she should switch to. Fast-changing serious developments on Ukraine border, where about 100,000 Russian troops are stationed, deepen the dividing lines between Russia and its new ally China on the one hand, and the US and its allies on the other. New Delhi will have to make up her mind.

New Delhi could abstain along with Kenya and Gabon on the United Nations vote to discuss Ukraine, and made up with USA by diplomatic boycott of the winter Olympics held in China. But India will have to come out more vocally and perhaps in action, if there is a military confrontation between Russia–China and US-Allies. History may be repeating in the revival of cold-war between two military blocks (earlier two super powers). However, for India, reviving non-alignment is a no-go, not an option.

Russia and China have formed an alliance called ‘United Front’, which has declared limitless venues for co-operation between the two States. They declared, “friendship between the two States has no limits, there are no forbidden’ areas of cooperation”. The Sino-Russian partnership will perhaps seek to bargain with America and its allies and claim their space as big power duo in international politics. Specifically, Russia would like USA to recognise Moscow’s space in Europe and hegemony over the former members of Soviet Union, like Ukraine, whereas China would want its influence acknowledged in Asia, India-Pacific and South-China Sea.

More particularly, Beijing would not brook any interference in its dealing with Taiwan.  And “China would want Russia on its side if it decided to ramp up aggression toward Taiwan”, a democratically self-governed island that China claims as part of its territory. On the other hand, the United States would like to explore the contradictions between China and Russia especially Xi Xinping, the Emperor and Vladimir Putin, the Czar.

American political and strategy experts argue that Sino-Russian alliance is not complete, although they seem closest since the last 70 years. In the 1950s, China and Russia (Soviet Union) were allies, in 1960s and 70s, they were antagonists, and in 2000, they are becoming friends again. Beijing has had a no-alliance policy and does not have allies, except Pakistan and North Korea. Likewise, Russia continues to maintain its alliances, rather military trade with countries inimical to China.

Agreed that China and Russia may have different priorities, and their leaders have contrasting styles, but both countries need each other. Russia needs China for economic and trade support, and Beijing needs Moscow to bargain with Washington. Beijing has already taken an open stand against the US in the UN and outside for Russia.

The Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Russia’s genuine security concerns over growing tensions in Europe over Ukraine should be “taken seriously”. “All parties should completely abandon the Cold War mentality and form a balanced, effective and sustainable European security mechanism through negotiation.” In support of Moscow’s concerns about the expansion of the NATO alliance in Europe, Wang added that “regional security cannot be guaranteed by strengthening or even expanding military blocs”.

The Biden administration has corrected the fault lines in their foreign policy drawn by Donald Trump who had trashed the Allies and partners. Biden has carefully drawn them back to the American fold. China’s bullying and belligerence in India-Pacific has pushed countries such as India, Philippines Vietnam, and Indonesia to the western bloc led by the US, and Russia’s aggression on Ukraine has helped Biden to consolidate and strengthen NATO.

In fact, Biden’s government is fully using Russian belligerence in Ukraine to its advantage.  USA wants Ukraine on its side by joining NATO and so on, whereas Russia is determined to prevent it. Secretary Blinken “underscored the global security and economic risks posed by further Russian aggression against Ukraine and conveyed that de-escalation and diplomacy are the responsible way forward”. Biden has also stitched new alliances like AUKUS, upgraded QUAD, and warmed up to ASEAN.

Both China and Russia even perhaps India has underestimated the power and resilience of America. America’s occasional disagreement with European partners should not be read as strategic divergences. It is common in a democratic world. US withdrawal from Afghanistan should also not be viewed as a weakness, but a strategic shift in favour of countering bigger threat like China.

Out of 10 big economies of the world, seven are Allies of America –Japan, Germany, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Canada and South Korea. Unites States has the military capabilities to face a two-front confrontation, both with China and Russia. The US also has the ability to exploit the domestic vulnerabilities of both these countries.

Where does this bi-polar world marked by bloc-politics in place of super power rivalry in the past, leave India? New Delhi would perhaps like to stay in the middle. Is this position maintainable? Clearly not. New Delhi cannot nudge Russia to stay out of the way of America in Europe, nor can it persuade America to accommodate Russia in the continent. With China, there is little room for manoeuvre.

In fact, New Delhi should follow a bit of Chinese policy towards US. While demanding its space on the big table, China is seducing Americans, mainly bankers and companies to do business with Beijing. Also, China is challenging United States to respect its own strategic interests and those of its new ally, Russia.

New Delhi could do unavoidable business with China and Russia, but her strategic interests can be secured only in the company of American bloc. So, when the chips are down, the time to choose her corner comes. New Delhi must declare its stand, no more abstentions, no more balancing. It should do so sooner than later, not to erode any more of her credibility as a rising power and her credentials as a democracy.

 

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Dr D K Giri

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