Russia-Ukraine War Unites India, China & Pakistan; Beijing Softens Approach, Calls For Enhanced Ties With New Delhi

The US and its Western allies have imposed massive sanctions on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine. However, there are countries that have chosen to remain neutral. Interestingly, three rival Asian nations — China, India and Pakistan — have also joined this non-aligned bloc. 

As a matter of fact, New Delhi and Beijing have been at loggerheads since the June 2020 border clash between their militaries, in which 20 Indian soldiers and at least 38 PLA troops were killed.

The tensions between the two are so high that India announced a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics after China made a soldier who had fought Indian forces in the Galwan Valley the torchbearer of the Games.

Beijing, on the other hand, is irked by India’s participation in the US-led QUAD, which aims to counter China’s aggressive posture in the Indo-Pacific region.

Additionally, China continues to arm India’s traditional adversary, Pakistan, with advanced military hardware. Despite these issues, the three nations hit a common ground by abstaining from voting on crucial UN resolutions condemning Moscow’s military action against Ukraine.

Going a step further, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on March 6 openly lambasted the Western nations, which asked Islamabad to join them in denouncing Russia.

“What do you think of us? Are we your slaves…that whatever you say, we will do?” Khan said while addressing a political rally, according to Reuters

Why Russia Matters To Both India & China  

On February 26, India and China abstained from voting on a UN Security Council resolution condemning Russia’s assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty and demanding a “complete and unconditional” withdrawal of the Russian military. Both countries have taken a similar stance, citing respect for “territorial integrity and sovereignty” as well as the “United Nations Charter”.

India’s representative to the UN, T S Tirumurti, said: “The contemporary global order has been built on the UN Charter, international law, and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states. All member states need to honor these principles in finding a constructive way forward.”

China’s permanent representative to the UN, Zhang Jun, said the “sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states should be respected and the purposes and principles of the UN Charter should be upheld… Security of one country cannot come at the cost of undermining the security of other nations…Ukraine should become a bridge between East and West.”

However, the question arises as to what kind of relationship India and China have with Russia to be willing to take a risk on such a contentious international subject. Both countries have different levels of interactions with Moscow.

Moscow has trade and economic ties with Beijing and is the third biggest gas supplier to the country. Although Russia’s economy is far smaller than China’s, both Moscow and Beijing constantly challenge the Western hegemony and criticize the US-led alliances in their speeches and actions. 

Furthermore, their partnership is built upon reciprocal gestures on Ukraine and Taiwan. In a joint statement with Chinese leader Xi Jinping last month, President Putin already declared Taiwan as an inalienable part of China and rejected the island’s independence in any form.

File:Vladimir Putin met with Xi Jinping in advance of 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics (1).jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Vladimir Putin met with Xi Jinping in advance of 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics – Wikimedia Commons

India and Russia, on the other hand, share defense and security ties. Around 70% of India’s military hardware is of Russian origin.

India has been rapidly modernizing its military by procuring advanced weapons from both Russia and the US in the face of twin threats from China and Pakistan. The Indian military has acquired the Russian-made S-400 ‘Triumf’ SAM, considered one of the most potent air defense systems in the world. This is despite the looming threat of US sanctions under  CAATSA.

Apart from this, New Delhi and Moscow have recently signed a mega deal to co-produce AK-203 assault rifles in India.

s-400 Missile
File Image: S-400 Missile

In an interesting development, the Chinese state-run Global Times, which often runs scathing editorials on India, recently applauded New Delhi for standing by Russia and pointing out Western countries’ duplicity.

China ‘Softens’ Its Tone On Border Row

On March 7, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Beijing said New Delhi should be partners for mutual success not adversaries of mutual attrition.

Admitting China-India ties have suffered some setbacks, Wang said the situation does not serve the fundamental interests of the two countries and peoples, state-run CGTN reported.

He stressed the boundary row shouldn’t disturb bilateral cooperation while urging the two sides to manage differences through dialogue and consultation

“For China and India, both major countries with a population of over a billion, only by staying independent can we firmly grasp our own destiny and realize our goals of development and rejuvenation,” said the Chinese foreign minister.

He urged India to work with China to uphold the strategic censuses of “posing no threat but offering development opportunities to each other.”

Convergence Of Interests 

While Russia’s collaboration with India and China has many facets, it has also been viewed as a crucial mediator between the two Asian superpowers, who are currently locked in a border impasse.

China, India, and Russia are members of a number of multilateral organizations, including the G20 group of nations, the BRICS group of emerging economies. Similarly, all three countries are members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a Eurasian political and security alliance that also includes four Central Asian countries and Pakistan.

Hu Shisheng, a leading expert on China-India relations, projected that the two Asian giants will have “a more stable border” this year, despite the fact that standoffs along their disputed border were likely to persist. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin. (File photo)

Russia is a key strategic partner for both India and China. In the article, Hu stated that Moscow, which is facing increased hostility from the West, “would not want to see India and China fighting each other.”

Following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi in December of last year, Putin held a virtual meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping later that month.

The heads of state discussed hosting a Russia-India-China trilateral in the “near future,” according to a senior Kremlin adviser. However, India’s Ministry of External Affairs has neither acknowledged nor refuted this possibility. 

China Wants To Play Mediator?

Meanwhile, on March 7, the Chinese Foreign Minister stressed that the friendship between Beijing and Moscow was still very strong, saying China was open to helping mediate peace between Russia and Ukraine.

According to AFP, a top EU official said last week that China should mediate future peace talks between Russia and Ukraine as Western powers cannot fulfill the role.

Beijing has repeatedly said it would play a “constructive role in calling for negotiations” to resolve the crisis but has not previously committed to joining or hosting any peace talks.