This will be the first high-level visit by a Chinese official after the Nineteenth Party Congress during which the Chinese Premier Xi Jinping further strengthened his internal position by an overwhelming majority. The visit of Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi is significant as it is also expected to convey the tone of Xi’s policy approach to India in his second term. India-China ties have faced many ups and downs since Xi took office in 2013 with several provocative instances of border incursions. During this period, China has also consistently opposed India’s entry as a permanent member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
Simultaneously, it has also blocked India’s efforts to get Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed chief, Maulana Masood Azhar, designated as an international terrorist citing a lack of “consensus” in the UNSC Committee 1267 as its reason. Beijing also continues to ignore India’s objections to the China-Pakistan-Economic Corridor, which is part of Beijing’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, and violates India’s sovereignty as it passes through disputed territory. Going by the current trajectory of China’s policies, there is strong likelihood that in the geopolitical and geo-economic space, China will continue to follow an assertive path, something that India and Russia need to factor into their strategic calculus so that the RIC dialogue does not become another China-dominated platform where it sets an agenda that would enhance its own goals, or one where China strives to drive a wedge between the two Cold War partners.
US and EU pressure on Russia has pushed it increasingly into the arms of China. Russia’s estrangement with the West following its annexation of Crimea in 2014 has had an interesting geopolitical outcome. While Russia always had very tenuous relations with China, post-Ukraine this has turned into a deeper partnership that includes, besides energy cooperation and pipelines, collaboration in diverse areas spanning trade, infrastructure development and defence.
Putin’s vision of Russia’s integration into “greater Europe” seems to be gradually getting replaced by “a greater Asia” with the goal of building an economic corridor from Shanghai to St. Petersburg. While Russia and China, along with India, have been a part of the RIC grouping, the new strengthened Russia and China bilateral partnership, including the increased flow of Russia defence supplies to China, needs a more robust India-Russia dialogue.
The growing entente between Russia and China has been a major factor in Russian overtures to Pakistan and the joint military exercises last year. Similarly, Russian policies towards Afghanistan also seem to be undergoing an evolution not entirely aligned to Indian interests especially in view of China’s recent border standoff with India and its unwavering adherence to the ‘One Belt One Road’ project of which the CPEC is a part and which would link Central Asia more closely with Afghanistan and Pakistan, thereby further destabilizing South Asia.
This has led to a profound and frank dialogue with Russia, as India knows the value of ensuring that its interests are not compromised because of these developments.
Beyond that, to preserve its strategic autonomy and for a better balance of the international system, both want to strengthen their relationship that has been built on mutual trust and confidence over decades. Russia and India hold the same positions on several of the key problems in international relations, especially in their fight against global terror and creating an inclusive world order through the strengthening global institutions like the United Nations.
Moreover, Chinese expansion into Central Asia and Eastern Europe appears to be a concern for Russia as both these regions have traditionally been part of its periphery. While building its relationship with China, Russia is wary of increasing Chinese dominance in the geopolitical order.
The disproportionate nature of the economy and resources of the two, and the growing trade imbalance in China’s favour, makes Russia cautious against subservience to China at a time when Putin seeks to raise Russia’s international profile.