Sino-Russian strategic dialogue will run into Indian policies

 

M.K. Bhadrakumar

Sep. 14, 2016

 

The eight-day exercises by the Russian and Chinese navvies that began in South China Sea on September 12 inevitably bring the strategic ties between the two big powers into the focus of attention. While Russian and Chinese pundits acknowledge that the entente between the two powers is likely transforming as a veritable alliance to counter the US’ containment strategies, unsurprisingly, a Xinhua commentary two days ago warned against “excessive geo-political interpretation of a specific military drill”.  (Xinhua)

Therefore, the timing of the visit by the Secretary of the Russian Security Council for Nikolai Patrushev to Beijing (September 12-14) will attract special attention. On the other hand, Patrushev’s consultations in Beijing come within a structured format – 3rd meeting of China-Russia Law-enforcement and Security Cooperation Mechanism and the 12th round of China-Russia Strategic Security Consultation — which give them a ‘routine’ character.

No doubt, Patrushev is a key figure in the Kremlin’s foreign and security policies and is a close confidante of President Vladimir Putin. Beijing is fully aware of that, as apparent from the fact that his ‘co-host’ (along with State Councilor Yang Jiechi) is none other than China’s powerful security czar Meng Jianzhu, member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and Secretary of the CPC Central Politics and Law Commission.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman made a lengthy statement on Tuesday regarding Patrushev’s talks with Yang. The statement cited Yang as saying that the Russian-Chinese comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination “is making in-depth progress with a scale and scope as never before”. Yang underscored the imperative for the two countries to “stay in close communication… strengthen communication, consultation and coordination in strategic security, give more support to each other and further deepen collaboration in international affairs”. (MFA)

North Korea, Central Asia, BRICS and “regional hot spot issues” figured in the talks. Russia and China have closed ranks on the North Korea issue against the backdrop of the US’ sabre-rattling and planned deployment of the ABM system in South Korea. On Tuesday, two U.S. supersonic B-1 Lancer strategic bombers, in a show of force, conducted a low-altitude flight over Osan Air Base in South Korea, which is 77 km (48 miles) from the Demilitarised Zone border with the North. In mid-October, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Reagan, part of the American strike group based in Japan and the only aircraft carrier in the region, is slated to hold joint exercises with South Korea.

The situation in Central Asia becomes a top priority for both China and Russia. Contrary to the sustained western propaganda that the two countries are locked in rivalry in Central Asia, the geopolitical reality is that they have shared interests and China recognizes Russia’s specific interests in the region and its lead role as the provider of security for the region. Russia’s towering presence in the region is apparent from the role it has played in real time – and continues to play – to ensure that the political transition in Uzbekistan, a key country for both Moscow and Beijing, is smooth and orderly. (See my blog Putin’s gesture will win the Uzbek heart)

To be sure, the impending transition in Kazakhstan will weigh heavily on the Chinese mind, given the strong possibility that there could be external attempts to stage a ‘colour revolution’ in that country. Kazakhstan has vast mineral resources and a highly strategic geography, bordering both Russia and China, apart from being a Caspian power, straddling a vital artery connecting Russia with Iran, Iraq and Syria. No doubt, the recent terrorist strike at the Chinese embassy in Bishkek rings warning bells.

The regional states – Russia, China, Iran, Central Asian countries and Pakistan – are well aware of the history of the US using extremist ‘Islamist’ groups as geopolitical tools. At any rate, the spectre of the IS provides the alibi for the US to justify its (and NATO’s) open-ended military presence in Afghanistan.

Equally, the BRICS is assuming greater importance for both Russia and China than ever before. It is the only platform of its kind that champions the multipolar world order and the aspirations of emerging powers. The BRICS has been gradually transforming as a world organization with a political and economic voice alike.

Most certainly, Patrushev and Yang would have discussed the BRICS summit in Goa in October. China and Russia may find that as the host country, India under the present dispensation, would be disinclined to identify closely with the Russian and Chinese concerns over the US’ regional policies. This poses a major contradiction.

More importantly, India’s foreign policies increasingly regard China in adversarial terms – and Beijing also seems to be cognisant of it, as apparent from the President Xi Jinping’s remarks to Prime Minister Narendra Modi during their recent meeting in Hangzhou. (See my blog Deconstructing Xi’s remarks to Modi at Hangzhou)

Suffice it to say, BRICS is running into headwinds that could not be foreseen even a year or two ago, and that will be cause for worry for both Russia and China. The ‘regime change’ in Brazil means that the US gets a toehold within the BRICS tent. South Africa may be the next in line to qualify for ‘regime change’ if ANC keeps surrendering political space at the present rate to the pro-western alliance opposing it.

Russia conceived the BRICS idea in an entirely different epoch altogether. Fundamentally, the UPA government, despite its neo-liberal policies and pro-American ‘tilt’, genuinely identified with the idea of BRICS. That may no longer be the case with the Modi government, which tends to subscribe to the ‘unipolar predicament’. How far Patrushev and Yang applied themselves to these emergent fault lines we may not get to know, but the contradictions cannot be brushed under the carpet for long. Read a recent Russian commentary entitled Why Does China want to Foster Political and Military Ties With Russia?

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