The Great Power Rivalry (China, Russia and the US) and its Impact on India – Explained, pointwise

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In the height of the Great Power rivalry, the Russian President and Chinese leader had their 38th bilateral meeting (since 2013) on February 04, 2022. The 5,000-word joint statement issued after the summit proclaimed that the “friendship between the two States has no limits, there are no ‘forbidden’ areas of cooperation”.

The German Chancellor is scheduled to meet the US President this week and he’ll be under enormous pressure to reassure the US that Germany has not gone soft on Russia and is not abandoning its NATO partners. Meanwhile, the French president is travelling to Moscow to explore the possibilities for de-escalation of the crisis in Ukraine.

The US wants to exploit the cleavages between Russia and China. Hence, the US is rebuilding and expanding its alliances.  As both sides consolidate their global coalitions, it will get harder to be in the middle, especially for India.

About the summit between China and Russia

The joint statement criticised US policies six times. The summit highlighted the convergence between the two sides on a range of issues, from NATO expansion to the AUKUS alliance.

Without mentioning Ukraine, the document mentioned that China “sympathises and supports the proposals put forward by the Russian Federation on the formation of long-term legally binding security guarantees in Europe”. Similarly, Russia extended “…support for the One-China principle, confirms that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China, and opposes any forms of independence of Taiwan”.

Read more: Taiwan-China conflict and India’s stand on it

Apart from that, the statement unveiled a common narrative on a host of global issues such as connectivity, cyberspace, development, democracy and human rights etc. They also agreed to cooperate on frontier issues such as artificial intelligence, international technological standards and Arctic sea lanes.

The document on India: The document did not mention the India-China border issue. The only reference to India was about the intent, “…to develop cooperation with the ‘Russia-India-China’ format.”

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How is the Great Power rivalry taking shape?
The approach of the US

The US’s decision to pull out of Afghanistan was rooted in the recognition that the time is now for the US to move away from counterinsurgency in the Greater Middle East to focus on the conflict with other great powers.

The US’s outreach to Russia last year (Biden-Putin Summit in June 2021) was based on the premise that the US could better focus on the challenges from China in the Indo-Pacific if there was a reasonable relationship with Russia in Europe. To fulfil this objective, the US has

1) Revived the Anglosphere (the AUKUS alliance with the UK and Australia), 2) Elevated the Quad to the summit level, 3) Reached out to the ASEAN, 4) In Europe, Britain has taken the lead in the diplomatic confrontation with Russia, 5) France is coordinating with the US in dealing with the Ukraine crisis.

The approach of Russia and China

Both Russia and China want to leverage the united front to negotiate better terms from America.

So, ever since the US’s outreach, Russia is trying to take advantage of that proposition by raising the stakes in Europe. The present Ukraine Crisis is just a part of Russia’s strategy.

China continues to challenge the US primacy in Asia.

In short, Russia is focused on military means to rewrite the European security order. On the other hand, China is focused on the economical means to alter the US ties.

The US is warning that if China backs Moscow in the Ukraine crisis, there might be major financial costs to Chinese companies.

Must Read: Why India Needs to Balance Relations with China, Russia and US?
How does the US has the upper hand in the Great Power rivalry?

Potential of the US: According to many defense experts, the US can risk a two-front challenge with Russia and China. The US has enough military resources to address aggression by both Russia and China. Further, the recent action of Russia in Ukraine might help in strengthening the NATO alliance.

Read more: NATO Summit 2021 – Countries Agreed to Step Up Defense

Challenges within China-Russia relations: The Sino-Russian relationship over the last seven decades has had many twists and turns. They were allies in the 1950s, enemies in the 1960s and 1970s (erstwhile USSR), and partners again in the 2000s. Hence, there are some potential contradictions in the new united front.

Though the Treaty of Good Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation in 2001 increased their cooperation, foreign policy experts hold that the China-Russia relationship is still far from being an alliance. This is because a) Unlike in the 1950s, ideology is not the basis of the congruence between them. The present proximity is due to Geopolitical concerns; b) The Crimean crisis of 2014 led Russia to court China to ward off Western pressure.

The power of the US and its allies: Seven countries among the top 10 economies — Japan, Germany, Great Britain, France, Italy, Canada, and South Korea — are allies of the US. They have been at the top of the heap for a century and more. But, Russia and China are in isolation.

India is now a strategic partner of the US and faces growing challenges from China.

Economic inequality between China and Russia: Bilateral trade between China and Russia is expected to reach $200 billion by 2024. But, Russia’s GDP of $1. 7 trillion is a tenth of China’s and Russia does not figure in the top 10 world economies today. Such economic inequality might impact the stability of power equations between China and Russia.

Must read: Recent developments in India-Russia Relations – Explained, pointwise
How do Russia and China have the upper hand in the Great Power rivalry?

American vulnerabilities: According to the Russian and Chinese analysts, the chaos of American domestic politics and the continuing arguments between the US and its European partners amplify the dissonance within the West.

Europe’s reliance on Russia for Energy: With the increase in gas prices in Europe because of various reasons like severe winter, post covid economy surge, many industries and food supply chains are under stress. Russia is principal supplier of Gas to Europe. A 1224 km, underwater Nord Stream Pipeline 2 running from Germany to Russia across the Baltic Sea shows the European reliance on Russia.

The dilemma of Germany applies to many countries: Given Germany’s large commercial stakes in Russia and China, Germany seemed unwilling to challenge them. Many of the Least developed, and developing countries are in a similar situation to Germany.

China’s economic power with US Corporates: China’s economic power made Wall Street bankers in the US to lobby with the US government to scale down the confrontation with China.

Must read: What would be the implications of a Russian invasion on Ukraine for India?
How did the Great Power rivalry impact India’s international relations?

The return of great power rivalry coincides with 1) Difficult phase in Indo-Chinese ties; 2) Widening and deepening of Indo-US ties; 3) India’s relations with Russia may not have the warmth of the past but they remain crucial in a range of strategic areas.

Russia proposed the ‘Russia-China-India’ triangle to bring together the three major powers. But due to China’s dismissive attitude and emerging China-Pakistan nexus, India started investing its diplomatic energies in rapprochement with the United States.

India’s alignment with the US on security and global issues will also pose challenges to India’s independence of approach and engagement in mini-lateral and plurilateral groupings such as the BRICS and the RIC, which involve Russia and China as key interlocutors.

Read more: Its time to build BRICS better

Further, India has little power to nudge Russia towards the US, nor does it have a veto over Russia’s strategic partnership with China.

The upcoming meeting of the Quad foreign ministers in Australia and the planned summit of their leaders in Japan in May 2022 will give some clues to India’s future navigation between the great powers.

Read more: India in chair, UNSC adopts resolution on Taliban; Russia and China abstain
What India should do in the Great Power rivalry?

India’s approach will depend upon the new dynamic between the two coalitions as well as its own relations with China, Russia, and the US.

India needs to assess the import of joint Russian-Chinese actions. In situations like the great power game, prudence dictates assessing both words and deeds. Till then, India needs to bide its time by managing differences and balancing interests.

India should leverage its economic potential (6th Largest) and diverse base of foreign policy to effectively balance the relationship with the trio.

Note: Diverse Base – Actively engaging with US, European powers (France, UK), Asian powers (Japan, Korea, and Australia), etc.

Read more: Why the Russia-West equation matters to India

According to C. Raja Mohan, India would like to see Russia find accommodation with the West in Europe; India knew that stabilising the Asian balance of power will be difficult without a measure of US-Russian cooperation in Europe. But if Russia blows its ties with the West in Europe, India is unlikely to let Russia undermine its growing partnership with the US and its allies. The dynamics of this Great Power Rivalry will pose the biggest challenge to Indian diplomacy in the coming times.

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