As Russia-China bolster ties further, Saudi Arabia and Iran strike a deal, and the US calls for a rival front of democracies. India’s tightrope walk through these developments gets tougher ahead of a number of crucial meetings- G7 G20 SCO and Quad.
If India thought the year would be about reconciling global differences through the G20 process, and hosting the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in 2023, then the first few months have given the government much to think about. Just in March, so much has happened- ever since the G-20 Foreign Minister’s Meeting and the failed attempts at joint statements that we covered here.
1. Iran-Saudi Arabia agreement – In a surprise announcement, Saudi Arabia and Iran announced they would re-establish full diplomatic ties and reopen their embassies in each other’s countires after talks mediated in Beijing. The message that went out:
- West Asian politics, long run on the perennial Shia-Sunni rivalry could be upended
- End to hostilities in Yemen, Lebanon, Iraw and other proxy conflicts
- Decline of western influence, boost to Chinese influence
2. ICC names Putin war criminal- the International Criminal Court convicted Russian President Putin in a number of alleged kindappings of children in Ukraine who were taken to Russia. Neither Russia, China, US or India are signatories to the ICC, so this may not make a difference, but it could impact Putin’s future travel.
3. Xi travels to Moscow- A year after Putin went to Beijing, Xi went to Moscow- and reaffirmed the relationship between them.
Their joint statement, released at a joint press appearance in Moscow said:
- China and Russia stand behind their No-limits partnership, announced last year, despite the Ukraine war, and have embarked on a “New Era” of ties that will be a “model for major power relations”
-That theirs is not a military alliance, and adheres to non-alignment, non-confrontation, and non-targeting of third countries
- Russia needs a prosperous and stable China, and China needs a strong and successful Russia.”
- Both sides committed to enhancing trade relationships, especially energy partnership and full completion of the 30-year, $300 billion gas pipeline called Power of Siberia, that was signed in 2014.
- They referenced not allowing multipolar organisations to be politicized- indicating the current logjam at the G-20-
4. Iran Russia China held naval exercises in the Gulf Of Oman last week, along with a few other countries- while Russia and China have held joint military exercises before, the inclusion of Iran is significant
5. Saudi Arabia clears decision to join SCO, more will be known when India hosts the SCO summit this year
What do the Russia-China and Iran-Saudi Arabia events mean for India?
1. Strengthening of Russia-China ties is a problem for India, given one is a traditional friend and the other a traditional foe/rival.
2. Impacts could be felt both in energy, given China’s plans for more imports and for defence- remember China bought the S-400 before India did.
3. The new front will make consensus at the G-20 that much more difficult
4. Iran and Saudi Arabia are both close friends of India, so their deal is a positive
5. However, the fact that China mediated, that China is a guarantor of the deal makes both countries much close to Beijing, especially after the visits of Raisi to Beijing and Xi to Riyadh
6. India’s strain with Iran, over cancelling oil imports, over reducing investment in Chabahar due to US sanctions and the I2U2 become more worrying with China’s increasing presence, and will hurt India’s plans to circumvent Pakistan
7. Connectivity for India via Chabahar, INSTC to Russia could also be hampered.
We also saw significant movement from the US and its allies this month:
1. US President Biden, Australian PM Albanese and UK PM Sunak stood together at San Diego Naval Base Point Loma to announce the 3-phase plan for AUKUS, a $368 Billion deal to provide Australia with nuclear powered submarines over the next 30 years
2. On a visit to Delhi, Japanese PM Kishida unveiled Japan’s new Indo-Pacific Policy, but also added many critical references to Russia’s war in Ukraine, making it clear that Japan stands against both Russia and China’s military plans. New Delhi remained silent on the policy for the moment.
3. PM Kishida then flew straight from Delhi to Ukraine to meet President Zelensky and express solidarity
4. This week the US hosted a virtual Democracy Summit, pitching a front of democracies vs authoritarian states – the summit also deepened the global divide
(i) neither China nor Russia were invited.
(ii) Many leaders at the summit took aim at Russia for the Ukraine War- calling it an assault on democracy- Ukrainian President Zelensky spoke, there was a special focus on the war
(iii) Taiwan was allowed a National Statement- given by Taiwan’s Human Rights Chief. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing Wen also made a stop over in the US at the same time
(iv) PM Modi also spoke- didn’t refer to either India indeed is mother of democracy 00:30 “India is Indeed the Mother of Democracy
As you can see India is a common factor on both sides- but it has to walk a tough tightrope between its Continental ties, and its Maritime strategy.
If you see the map, India’s continental outlook- Pakistan, China, Afghanistan, Iran, Central Asia and Russia
India’s maritime outlook- Quad, UK, France, Germany, EU, IOR countries- Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Mauritius and other islands
The calendar of meetings ahead also show how tough the next few months will be:
SCO Defence Ministers Meeting in Delhi
G20 Finance Ministers 2nd Meeting in Washington
- SCO FM meet in Goa
- G-7 Outreach in Hiroshima
- Quad Summit in Sydney
- US for State Visit
- France as Chief Guest at July 14 Parade
- SCO Summit in Delhi
- BRICS in Durban
-G20 summit in Delhi
There is a reason that India’s current foreign policy of strategic autonomy and multipolarity is not so different from its traditional foreign policy of non-alignment- Primarily India’s geography makes it clear that it cannot be a camp follower of any one country, nor can it make ideological partnerships beyond a point - where there is a Quad, there is a SCO, where there is a G-7 outreach, there is a G-20- where there is rhetoric, there is also the reality of India’s situation. Instead of seeing non alignment as a compulsion- there is merit in seeing India’s traditional balancing act as one that gives its foreign policy maximum flexibility to serve India’s needs.
Question of the week (QOTW)
Could you please elaborate on the prospect of India-China relations in the context of the RIC grouping :
The RIC grouping first came up in 1996, thought up by Russian Premier Yevgeny Primakov. While there have been several foreign ministers meetings – about 22 rounds so far, there has been no RIC Summit since 2019 G20 summit in Osaka, particularly since the LAC standoff in 2020. So the question is, will the three leaders, slated to meet in Delhi at the SCO summit in July also make time for the RIC meeting?
1. China and Russia: Four Centuries of Conflict and Concord by Philip Snow out in April 2023
2. The New Cold War: The United States, Russia, and China from Kosovo to Ukraine by Gilbert Achcar out in April 2023
3. China and Russia: The New Rapprochement by Alexander Lukin professor at National Research University’s Higher School of Economics in Moscow, previously wrote Pivot to Asia: Russian Foreign Policy enters 21st Century
4. The Russia-China Axis: The New Cold War and America s Crisis of Leadership by Douglas E. Schoen and Melik Kaylan
5. Three Dangerous Men: Russia, China, Iran and the Rise of Irregular Warfare by Seth G. Jones- out this year, it focuses not on Putin Xi and Raisi but lesser known Generals Gerasimov, Zhang Youxia and assassinated IRGC chief Gen Soleimani
6. Grand Delusion: The Rise and Fall of American Ambition in the Middle East by Steven Simon out in April 2023
7. Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Rivalry That Unravelled the Middle East by Kim Ghattas – Journalist take on how the events of 1979 changed the region from prosperous and progressive to protracted conflict
8. MBS: The Rise to Power of Mohammed Bin Salman by Ben Hubbard
9. West Asia at War : Repression, Resistance and Great Power Games by Talmiz Ahmad
Script and Presentation: Suhasini Haidar
Production: Gayatri Menon and Reenu Cyriac