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Moscow, Beijing & The Balance Of Power

Russia and China recently triggered a sensation in Global Geopolitics by issuing a 50-page joint document that portrays the image of unity between the two countries. However, India has cast doubts on the stability of Russia-China ties. According to sources close to the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, although New Delhi is closely monitoring the changing global geopolitical landscape, there is no reason to be alarmed. It is evident in history that there has always been a lack of basic trust and confidence in Sino-Russian relations. The Indian diplomats are of the opinion that as their diplomatic ideologies and goals are different, the two countries cannot jointly put Asia (particularly India) under strategic pressure.

In the first week of February 2022, Russian President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping announced that they would counter the US’ dictatorial behaviour together, stating that the Kremlin and Beijing would stand by each other in case of a regional security breach by any other state. The joint statement read: “As the Pandemic of the new Coronavirus infection continues, the international and regional security situation is complicating, and the number of global challenges and threats is growing from day to day. Some actors representing but the minority on the international scale continue to advocate unilateral approaches to addressing international issues and resort to force; they interfere in the internal affairs of other states, infringing their legitimate rights and interests, and incite contradictions, differences and confrontation, thus hampering the development and progress of mankind, against the opposition from the international community.

Russian President Putin with Chinese President Xi Jinping

Meanwhile, India has claimed that this alliance is quite fragile. The relationship between China and the erstwhile Soviet Union had never been cordial, as the lack of trust between the two was evident throughout the Cold War. No Soviet leader had visited China for 31 years, since 1958. Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, the eighth and final leader of the Soviet Union, had arrived in Beijing in 1989. The bilateral ties deteriorated after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Finally, President Putin had signed an agreement with China to maintain friendly relations in 2001. Since then, the Sino-Russian partnership has never looked like a formal strategic alliance. It, seemingly, is difficult for them being in an alliance, while maintaining their respective ideological stand-points.

China was absent from the UN referendum on annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation in 2014. The recently issued joint statement, too, did not recognise Russia’s occupation of Crimea. It did not mention the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. As far as the security situation is concerned, China is concentrating on Asia, while Russia is giving importance to Europe. Russia’s average GDP is now only one-tenth that of China. Hence, Moscow is by no means ready to accept China as its Big Brother. Russia has also realised that it is more profitable to export gas to Germany and other European countries than to sell it to China. Furthermore, the Kremlin is reluctant to allow China to increase its influence in Central Asia (especially in former Soviet Republics).

China and Russia also have differences over the ongoing Russian military operation in Ukraine. Ukraine is an important partner of One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative, an economic strategic project of China. As the Asian Giant enjoys cordial trade ties with Kiev, Beijing would never want Moscow to attack Ukraine. It may be noted that the European Union (EU) is the largest trade partner of Beijing. On the other hand, the trade ties between the EU and Russia are deteriorating. Hence, it would be difficult for China to support Russia in case of a Russia-Europe war.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War came as somewhat of a shock to both powers. It also meant that there was no other power to counterbalance the US for both China and Russia. It was following the post-Cold War period that both Russia and China began to formulate the idea of a Multipolar World Order as an alternative to the Unipolar Global Order dominated by the US. Nevertheless, Russia and China were overwhelmingly concerned with their domestic economies, as they both implemented economic reforms.

Image courtesy: Seneca

India considers another issue as an important one: the joint statement made no mention of the ongoing border crisis between India and China. In spite of Beijing’s instigation, the Kremlin made no comments on the Kashmir issue, involving India and Pakistan. After examining these issues, New Delhi has conjectured that the Sino-Russian venture would not last long. Although India’s relations with Russia are not as good as they used to be, they still share cordial ties. After considering the current geopolitical scenario, India has decided to balance its ties with Russia, China and the US.

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