Russia could bring India and China closer

RIC can only become more meaningful if there is a proper rapprochement between India and China. Source: Shutterstock/Legion Media

RIC can only become more meaningful if there is a proper rapprochement between India and China. Source: Shutterstock/Legion Media

Moscow enjoys a great deal of trust and goodwill in both countries and can empathise with (and advise) India on how to deal with China when it comes to vexing territorial disputes.

If there’s any geo-political development that worries ordinary Indians with regard to Russia, it is Moscow’s growing closeness with Beijing.  For many in India, fed on a healthy diet of both state-sanctioned and private media reports, China is still an enemy. Occasionally television reports show Chinese soldiers crossing over to the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control and this is enough to agitate hawks who call for sterner action against the “Chinese aggressors.”

As someone who has been to China on several occasions and interacted with members of all strata of society, I can vouch for the fact that many Chinese people also have an “enemy.” This country happens to be one of China’s neighbours and is most certainly not India. There have been times when people in China refused to take a photograph from my camera as it was a Canon, and hence a Japanese product. For many in China, Japan is a country that is yet to accept and atone for its sins in the Second World War when massacres of Chinese civilians were of the same scale as the Nazi German attacks on innocent Russians.  India is either looked upon positively or with indifference by ordinary Chinese people.

China and Russia had a series of wars over the last couple of centuries, with the former feeling that many of the treaties signed between the countries were unequal. There was even a time when some maps in China claimed territories in the Russian Far East such as Primorye, Khabarovsk and Sakhalin as a part of the Middle Kingdom. Tough negotiations by diplomats from both countries led to give and take and finally China renounced greater claims to Russian territory by accepting one a half islands from Russia  on the Amur River.

Relations between China and India on the other hand were very warm for thousands of years, regardless of which dynasty or empire had the greatest amount of power in either country.  The 1962 war is a blot on the relationship, but it is something that China seems to have moved on from. Compare the brief India-China 1962 war to the long history of wars that the Middle Kingdom had with its northern neighbour and it is easy to understand that the Sino-Indian conflict pales in comparison. Yet, Russia and China buried their hatchets and moved on to build a meaningful economic and political partnership.

If there is anything that Asia can learn from Europe, it is that even the worst enemies can put aside historical hatred and enmity and create institutions that bring people together. Maybe the common Eurasian economic space can in the future include even China and India.  Imagine a time in the future when borders become irrelevant all the way from India, China, Central Asia and into Russia. As tough as that looks right now, a scenario of a border-free Europe looked even more of a distant possibility in the 1930s.

In Eurasia, we need to be able to put aside minor conflicts and move towards a more integrated continent. Even the ASEAN countries are moving in a similar direction. For there to be a common Eurasian economic space, it’s essential that India and China patch up their differences and even those that relate to Pakistan.

Russia can play a huge role in bringing the Asian giants together. Moscow enjoys a great deal of trust and goodwill in both countries and can empathise with (and advise) India on how to deal with China when it comes to vexing territorial disputes. For years, Russia has tried to make RIC more meaningful than just a trilateral meeting between foreign ministers, but this has largely not come into fruition because of Indian apprehensions. A fresh look needs to be given to this format when a new government comes into power in Delhi. What is in India’s interests? An antagonistic relationship with its northern neighbour as a country propped up by the United States or as a partner in progress with economic powerhouses such as Russia and China?

When India and China refused to condemn the Crimean reunification with Russia, and the BRICS came out in support of Russian representation at G20, international efforts to isolate Moscow were more or less flattened. This was just a small example of how a common approach to problems by the RIC countries can insulate all three countries from malicious campaigns from hostile nations. If Russia, India and China can work closely together on larger global issues, the world order itself would change. But all this begins with a serious Sino-Indian rapprochement and this is where Russia has to use its good offices in both countries.  

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