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Should India be Worried about Growing the China-Russian alliance? By Jai Kumar Verma

Image Courtesy: Reuters



Article: 23/2024


Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping met 40 times in the last ten years. Russian dependence on China is increasing rapidly because of western sanctions due to Russian Ukraine war. Analysts claim that Beijing has emerged as an economic lifeline to Moscow because of western sanctions. Putin who was on a two-day visit to China met Xi at the Great Hall of the People on 16 May 2024. Putin mentioned that Russian Chinese friendship is non opportunistic while Xi claimed that it is “everlasting”.


The west especially United States is concerned about China’s export of ‘dual use’ items to Russia. Moscow and Beijing have signed “no limits” strategic partnership before Russia-Ukraine war commenced. China repeatedly claimed that it is not supplying arms and ammunition to Russia and also denied that it is supplying dual use items to Russia. However, US claims that China is supplying computer chips, machine tools and other logistic items which can be used by Russia in war with Ukraine.


China continues to supply several important items to Russia despite sanctions from west as Beijing considers that US and other western countries want to supress China. Economic ties between China and Russia is strengthening and according to an estimate Russian trade with China in the Chinese yuan grew about 80 times after Russian Ukraine war. China being a manufacturing hub of the world has enormous energy requirements while Russia has plenty of energy for export. The trade between both the countries is enhancing rapidly. In 2023 the bilateral trade between both the countries reached $240.1 billion which crossed the target of $200 billion before schedule.  The growing economic ties between China and Russia would generate an economic competition for US and its western allies. $300 billion gas pipeline known as Power of Siberia signed in 2014 is a threat to US energy security.


The military cooperation between both the countries also grew rapidly. There were numerous joint military exercises and in November 2021 both countries signed a Road Map for Military cooperation for 2021-2025. Russia and China undergone more than 75 joint military exercises between 2003 and 2022. Beijing is assisting Moscow to increase its defence industrial base and though Russia is engaged in a war with Ukraine but with Chinese active assistance its defence production has considerably increased. As Russia cannot buy strategic items from U.S. and other western countries hence it is buying it from China, around 90 percent of micro chips Russia is purchasing from China.


China is helping Russia in producing drone, turbojet engines, microelectronics, cruise missiles just to name few. Russia has expanded production of artillery rounds because of import of raw material from China. Beijing is also helping Moscow in improving its satellite and also provides imageries which helps it in war with Ukraine. The increasing military cooperation between Russia and China may become a military threat to U.S. and its allies and it may become difficult for West to save its interests in important areas including Asia-Pacific.


The political ties between Russia and China are strengthening as both consider United Staes as their major adversary and they have same view on several international issues. Both think that US-dominated international system is unfair and needs drastic changes. Both Beijing and Moscow are working jointly to decrease worldwide dependence on US dollars. Both countries are trading in Chinese Yuan. Both countries are also against unilateral sanctions to enforce the foreign policy of the country.


There are several challenges to China Russia relations. In cold war era Soviet Union was the senior partner but now things have changed. Chinese economy in 2023 is of $17.71 trillion wile Russian economy in end of 2023 was $4.172 trillion in purchasing power parity terms. Hence Chinese economy is much stronger than Russian economy. China represents 18% of all Russian trade while Russia represents only 2% of Chinese trade. In 2022 Chinese population was 141.22 crores while Russian population was 14.42 crores. It means Chinese population was 10 times more than Russian population.


At present Russian dependence on China is much more than Chinese dependence on Russia. This inequality is important for shaping the bilateral relations of both the countries. It would be difficult for Putin to work as junior partner of Xi.


Chinese economy depends on export and USA is China’s top trading partner as 14.8% of China’s total export is to USA. Besides USA, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, India, and Germany are China’s other important trading partners. At present China’s economy is already in trouble hence China cannot afford US sanctions.


There are severe implications on growing China Russia relations on US and other western countries. The combined economic and military power of China and Russia would weaken U.S. sway on Europe, Asia-Pacific, Middle East, and other places. Saudi Arabia and Iran agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations because of mediation efforts of China, it enhanced Chinese influence in the region. Iran, Russia, China, and other countries did naval exercises in the Gulf of Oman, it would lessen the impact of U.S. sanctions on Iran and North Korea.


The enhanced cooperation between China and Russia may also pose a cybersecurity threats to the U.S. and its allies. Both countries may launch cyber attacks on the infrastructure, institutions and other sensitive places in U.S. and its allies.


Besides U.S. and its allies, India is also worried about the growing China Russia friendship. Russia is a close partner of India while expansionist China is a strategic rival. India has a longtime relationship with Russia, and it is the main arms supplier and accounts for about 36 percent of India’s arms supply. After independence the then USSR helped India in building its industrial base. USSR helped India in various fields including defence, space, atomic energy, technology just to name few. In cold war era Russia extended diplomatic support especially in Jammu and Kashmir issue. In 1971 USSR helped India against Pakistan as it was U.S. ally.


The strengthening China Russia alliance has severe implications for India. Russian dependence on China has increased so much that it would not help India in case of India China conflict. The bilateral trade between China and Russia is more than $240 billion. It crossed $200 billion trade before the target date. The trade between two countries is enhancing very fast after Russia Ukraine war. On the other hand, India Russia bilateral trade is only $65 billion. It was a massive increase because of oil import from Russia. About 90 % trade between Russia and China is in local currency while Russia does not want Indian rupees as it claims that it has billions of unused rupees.


China invests in Russian energy sector while India only buys energy. Chinese state-owned firms invested about $95 billion between 2005 to 2021 in Russian energy sector. China has also invested about $48 billion dollars in Russian firms. India wants multi polar world, China and Russia also want multi polar world but there perception of multi polar world means anti west while India is not anti-west, but it is non west. Hence the perception of India about west is different than perception of China and Russia.


China has enhanced its influence on Pakistan, Maldives, and captured Hambantota port of Sri Lanka. Beijing’s sway is increasing on several countries through its debt strategy. India is trying to counter China’s growing military presence in the region as it is trying to encircle India but close relationship between Russia and China makes India’s task difficult. India is also trying to boost its relations with Japan, Australia, and Vietnam but close relation between Russia and China makes it more difficult.


Growing China Russia military cooperation would also create multiple problems for India as Russia is India’s biggest arms supplier. Now India is trying hard to produce more and more defence items under ‘Make in India’ programme. India has also diversified its arms import and reduced its dependence on Russia. France and U.S. emerged as other arms exporters to India. India is also trying to export arms and ammunition and set a target of annual production of defence items worth rupees three lakh crore and wants to export defence items worth Rs. 50,000 crore by 2028-2029.


India should strengthen its ties with countries which are also threatened by China. The U.S. status of lone super power is threatened by Beijing. India should try to reduce the influence of China on its neighbours. India can also become more active in multilateral forums and in alliances which may directly or indirectly aim to curb the influence of China.


India should take lessons from past too. In 1962 Indo China war Moscow extended political support to China not India. Again, in Galwan clash between India and China Russia remained neutral. However, in case of conflict with China, India needs active assistance because India would need weapons, ammunition, intelligence etc. while for China neutrality can be fine. Hence India should become self-reliant in production of arms especially ammunition and should inculcate friends who can extend assistance in case of conflict with China.


(Jai Kumar Verma is a Delhi-based strategic analyst and Life Member of United Services Institute of India and member of Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. The views expressed are those of the author and does not reflect the views of C3S)

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