There are no permanent enemies and no permanent allies, only permanent interests in international politics (and increasingly in domestic politics, too).
The rise of China as an economic and military power second only to the US, and the almost simultaneous diminution of Russia in both these spheres, has led to a re-ordering of the global hierarchy. China, having grown big and powerful thanks to the most generous patronage of the US, now sees the latter as its number one foe.
And Russia, a much-reduced power with diminishing influence in international fora, seeks the hand of China to bolster its cause. China is only too pleased to help, given that it allows it to play a major role on the world stage much to the chagrin of the West which looks askance at its growing military and economic prowess.
President Xi Jinping, after playing the peacemaker between bitter enemies, Iran and Saudi Arabia, now offers his services to end the over the one-year-long war in Ukraine. His two-day visit to Russia, which saw the beleaguered Vladimir Putin play a grateful host, further firmed up the China-Russia “all-weather friendship”.
Not unlike the earlier China-Pakistan all-weather friendship, this too has China in the dominant role of Big Brother coming to the rescue of a friend in distress. Though the Pakistanis are now beginning to discover that the Chinese munificence can be like a noose around their neck, an isolated Russia unable to make headway against a much smaller neighbour despite all the military arsenal at its disposal has no option but to grab Xi’s hand of friendship.
Just in case Xi can help extricate Putin from a costly misadventure without a loss of face. But Xi’s services as a peace-broker might not be welcome in Kyiv, given that the minimum condition for a halt to the armed hostilities is the vacation of aggression by Russia.
Russia may also want China to help it with arms and ammunition that it desperately needs to prosecute its aggression. That Russia has already exhausted its own supplies of artillery shells and rockets underlines the hollowness of its domestic defence production infrastructure. Clearly, the wealth of the energy-rich country was frittered away in enriching Putin’s friends and other oligarchs in his inner circle.
The problem is, however hard China may want to supply arms and ammunition to Russia, it does not want to jeopardise its trade relations with the West. It is a trade-off which can singe the Chinese economy which is recovering slowly from the ravages of the zero-Covid edict of the Communist czar.
Yet, neither is it in the interest of the US-led West to see the war in Ukraine going nowhere, with neither the aggressor nor its victim in a position to declare a clear victory. That is why the world at large needs to summon collective wisdom to try and find an early end to Putin’s aggression. Without an iota of doubt justice is on the side of Ukraine. If Xi can secure it the world will not grudge him a place on the global high table.
But Xi is not in search of justice. He is engaged in a struggle for global dominance with the US and would very much like Russia to emerge victorious just so his main foe is humiliated. As for India, though it refrained from endorsing the condemnatory UN resolutions, it made it clear that not only should the territorial sovereignty of nations be respected but that the present is not the age of wars. Without doubt, India’s abstention too was animated by self-interest. Since the sanctions on Russia, India has hugely stepped up its import of Russian oil at a somewhat discounted price.
However, a closer China-Russia friendship can be potentially troublesome for India as it would keep Russia from staying at least neutral in a Sino-Indian border conflict. Full support may be the price that Xi seeks for backing a beleaguered Russia.
China’s all-weather friendship with Russia can be far more irksome for India. With India joining the US-led groups to protect the maritime independence of the Indo-Pacific against rising Chinese belligerence, Xi would expect an isolated Russia to play second fiddle. In short, India has reason to be concerned with the Rusi-Chini bhai-bhaiism. Yet, the new jugalbandi may provide the West another reason to treat China with a greater suspicion and mistrust.
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