In a speech this year in Moscow, Indian Foreign Secretary highlighted the three strategic geographies- Eurasia, Indo-pacific and the Russian Far East (RFE), and the Arctic, which will be the key emerging theatres of geopolitics that upcoming diplomats will be engaged in throughout their careers. He further stressed that not only is Russia crucial to all the three regions, but there is also an inherent need of multi-polarity for the security and prosperity of these regions. Also, a multipolar world and a multipolar Asia is not possible without India and Russia.
Did the Foreign secretary underline the increasing Chinese ambitions in these regions and the need for countering these ambitions by pointing towards the necessity of multipolarity in Asia? Several questions arise when we take in consideration the recent rejuvenation in the relationship between India and Russia, and the narrative that strategic hedging against China is the main motive behind this rejuvenation.
For answering these, one needs to understand why China is interested in these regions and what has been China doing in these key areas. Further, what are India’s stakes in these regions and whether India can think of competing with China here. Moreover, how Russia looks at the competition if it exists. This piece tries to analyze these questions and highlight the ongoing geopolitical dynamics in the RFE and Arctic and the pertaining Indian and Chinese foreign policies, in their past, present, and future goals.
Importance of RFE and Arctic
Geographically, RFE comprises of the Far Eastern Federal district that is the easternmost territory of Russia sandwiched between eastern Siberia and the Pacific Ocean. The district shares land borders with Mongolia, China, and North Korea to the south and shares maritime borders with Japan to its southeast and with the US to its northeast.
Having never known serfdom, this region has been culturally, religiously and politically different from Moscow and the Russian heartland for a major part of history, by virtue of more entrepreneurism and autonomy. Today there exists an additional dimension to this ‘difference’ between the RFE and the center. In the Soviet period, the region was tied to Europe economically but in past decade it has become increasingly clear that several of the Far Eastern krais and oblasts (units of governance in Russian political system like districts), especially those bordering China are now economically dependent more on Asia than on European region. This situation is compounded by migration related demographic issues. For more than a decade now the region has witnessed exodus of ethnic Russian population and seen a growing influence of Chinese businesses and migrants. The extent of this phenomenon is widely visible as over the years large tracts of land in this region have been leased to Chinese for farming, infrastructure projects and energy exploration, with a low tax regime and a considerable amount of autonomy over the activities. As a result, the region has witnessed emergence of Chinese run farms which look like fortresses, surrounded by high fences and red flags.
The Arctic is deemed as the northernmost region on Earth. While most part of this region used to remain covered with snow for a major part of the year, this phenomenon has been on a downfall due to changes being purported by climate change. The Arctic region not only contains plethora of mineral resources but is extremely important from strategic point of view. During the cold war era, the Arctic held a prominent place in the political and military standoffs between the two superpowers- US and USSR. The region observed a drop in the geopolitical and geostrategic relevance in the 1990s and remained of ‘low tension’ due to commitments made by the Arctic states to keep the Arctic a zone of peace.
The unfreezing of snow makes way for the possibility of opening of the Northern Sea Route which can provide a cost-effective and shorter duration alternative for global shipping routes. Also, scientific developments taking place in hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation can lead to full-scale utilization of the resource base of the Arctic in near future.
Since the rise of Vladimir Putin at the helm of Russian Federation, Moscow’s approach towards development of the RFE has been to inject money into existing industries which according to many analysts of the field has not worked due to the lacunae in addressing the problems of infrastructure and regional integrity. Moscow desires to integrate the region with the broader Asia-Pacific region to solve the problems of development, investment, and connectivity.
In last few years, Moscow has taken decisions like encouraging the return of Russian ‘compatriots’ from Central Asia to accelerate large scale projects. It has also created Special Economic Zones with low tax regimes, focused on modernizing the ‘Trans-Siberian railway’ network, and emphasized on plans to invite investments in the region from nations like India and Japan, beyond the biggest investor in the region- China.
It has to be noted that any developments in the RFE cannot be in isolation from that in Arctic. With the aim of developing both the regions in concurrence, Moscow created the ‘Ministry of the RFE and the Arctic’ which is now working on creation of a corporation in order to supervise the economy and to assume control over elements like ports and exchanges. For the Arctic, Russia rolled out its ‘Strategy for Developing the Russian Arctic Zone and Ensuring National Security through 2035’ in October last year, which aims to advance the development of the region’s abundant resources (especially oil and gas), and improve living conditions for the population. As a long-term objective, Russia hopes to establish the Northern Sea route as a new global shipping lane. These aims and policies need to be considered while understanding Chinese and Indian policies and ambitions and the emerging geopolitical triangle between the three countries, resulting in both cooperation and competition.
The India-China Competition
The perception of China has seen a rise and fall in the last three decades in Russian society. Unlike the 1990s, when there was much skepticism regarding a rise in Chinese immigration, Russia became less wary of engaging with China when relations with the west deteriorated in the aftermath of conflicts in Georgia in 2008 and in Crimea in 2014. Gradually, China became the leading source of foreign direct investment in the region as well as the leading exporter to the districts at the Russia-China border. The extent of asymmetry in terms of trade resulted in a situation where while the exports from this region are diversified among the three northeast Asian states- South Korea, China and Japan, the imports are heavily dominated by China, mainly consisting of machinery, equipment and metals. This imbalance has been further aggravated by factors such as sanctions by the west- leading to declining investment from European nations, and the dramatic rise of China in realm of manufactured goods- which has led to stagnant conditions for the local industries of these regions which are now dependent on export of mainly raw materials and minerals.
As observed by some experts, Beijing’s interest in the region increased after the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 when the Chinese investment was followed by an influx of Chinese migrants in the five districts at Russia-China border, namely- Amur oblast, Jewish autonomous region, Primorsky Krai and Khabarovsk Krai. From amongst these regions, Amur oblast has the largest gold reserves in Russia, while in another near-border district of Oktyabrsky, there are large Uranium deposits. Adjoining Amur is Sakha (or Yakutia), which carries the world’s largest diamond deposits.
However, mineral resources are not the only source of motivation for Chinese investment in the region. RFE contains huge potential for infrastructure development in realm of power generation (where Chinese electric companies have already shown interest to gain foothold), and upgradation of railway infrastructure which can connect the RFE, Northeast China and Japan with Europe with a land-based network and thus reduce the sea-dependence. Invariably, there has been an increasingly accepted reality that like the Russian Asia-Pacific policy, the policy in RFE too might become lopsided due to the factor of overdependence on China.
Kremlin on its part remain aware of the increasing dependence on export of raw materials to China. China on the other hand is working actively in diversifying its own energy imports and is now seeking to compete with Russia in realm of exports to traditional Russian markets for weaponry and technology. Ideas like temporary placement of skilled manpower from India in RFE are being explored. Besides this, the pledge by India for a $1 billion Line of Credit for development of the RFE highlights the importance being placed by the two countries to make this region a source of renewed cooperation. For now, the plans have been in phase of conceptualization and once the implementation stage arrives, China’s stance towards the potential competition here will be interesting to observe.
Unlike the case of RFE, the changing dynamics and increasing Chinese interests in the Arctic region have been debated and speculated much more in the global geopolitical arena. In the last two decades, not only has Beijing accumulated memberships in all Arctic-related regional associations in some form, but Beijing has also made it a surety that China actively participates in all international organizations whose responsibilities cover the Arctic Ocean and laws related to it. To this end in the past decade, Beijing has started projecting its interest and speaking up on issues pertaining to Arctic. The extent of this activism can be verified by the aims and objectives mentioned in the white paper published by China on 26 January 2018, titled ‘China’s Arctic Policy’. This policy paper very explicitly states that China will participate in regulating and managing the affairs and activities relating to the Arctic, and that ‘respect’ is the key basis for China’s participation in Arctic affairs.
Beijing has made it clear that it has formulated policies and have interest in every realm in the Arctic, ranging from development of shipping routes, exploration and exploitation of oil, gas and minerals, conservation and utilization of fisheries, tourism, as well as strengthening her leadership credentials by having a say in Arctic governance. In totality, if RFE is a region for China’s increasing influence in Russia’s domestic landscape, Arctic is much more of an opportunity to put on display the increasing clout and aspirations for being accepted as a ‘great power’ who now has interests in every corner of the world. India, even if starting to present itself as an alternative to China in the RFE, will find it difficult to match the Chinese position in the Arctic.
In January this year, India rolled out a draft Arctic policy of its own and highlighted that India seeks to play a constructive role in Arctic by leveraging its vast scientific pool and expertise in Himalayan and polar research. India remains aware that Arctic might be becoming an arena of increasing power competition. But beyond planning, goal setting, and utilizing the existing mechanisms for scientific development, in coming years, the economic base of India will not let New Delhi go all-out for claiming a position on the Arctic high table. This is bound to increase tensions in Moscow who would not want a challenge to its hegemony in the Arctic by an increasingly ambitious China.
On its part, Moscow has taken several steps to develop the RFE region to reduce its overdependence on China. However, remoteness of the region, outmigration and difficult business environment are some other issues which append the complex dynamic of the region. Beijing is aware of the benefits available due to scarce ethnic Russian labor, lack of investment from other sources for Russia, the geographical difficulties for nations like India for smooth access, and the absence of deep pockets like China for other nations. In case of the Arctic, Beijing is going for proactive diplomacy and wooing the smaller states. Although Beijing would not want to come to blows with Washington or Moscow in any ways, creating a discourse where China starts being seen as a ‘Arctic’ and not just a ‘Near-Arctic’ state will be a big win for China even before any other advantages as mentioned above are realized. India while looking to initiate presence in RFE can be deemed capable to some extent, but the credentials in case of Arctic region seems no match to that of China. Russia on her part, will want India to at least think about trying to punch above its weight and rise to the task of providing Moscow a way for hedging against Chinese hegemonic ambitions. Recently, India has expressed interest in cooperating with other nations like Japan in these key strategic areas. How Moscow responds to these plans by New Delhi will shape the geopolitical dynamics between Moscow, Beijing, and New Delhi in these two emerging regions which look all set to witness a competition in the coming years.
U.S.- China Strategic Competition in The East Asia
East Asia has been the most dynamic region where development has been internationally recognized. The regional politics of the region has developed a paradox that has flamed up the economic environment of the region. The trends have shown the increased intensifying security issues along with the strategic completion that has spread the security and economic tensions across the East Asian Region. In a global circle, China is known as the revisionist state. The historical manners suggest the reclaim of East Asia by the Chinese. This claim has intensified the relations between the US and China in East Asian Region. The main challenge for China is to shift the US intervention from the East Asian region for the balanced equation at the strategic level. This might provoke the US and its allies in East Asia such as Japan that will help the US to jeopardize the Chinese rule from the region. The challenge for the US and its allies in the East Asian Region is more complicated because of the economic stability of China at the International Level. This might be a proxy war for both the superpowers in the East Asian region where the conflict may rise compromising the strategic stability of the region. The strategic location of the US lies in the actual form of ability and project power over great sustainable intervals. The strategic behavior increases the policies and shapes the allies.
One prevalent belief in the United States about China’s long-term policy goals in Asia is that Beijing aspires to be the regional hegemon and wants to restore a Sino-centric order in the region.
First, Beijing favors unipolar ties at both the global and regional levels and believes that with ongoing economic growth, this trend will continue intra-regional political consultation in Asia, influence on regional affairs is going to be more diversified and more evenly distributed. Secondly, although China expects some relative increase in its influence in Asia, it understands that thanks to the boundaries of its hard power and particularly its soft power, China can never achieve a grip cherish its role within the ancient past or to the U.S. role within the region at the present.
From Beijing’s perspective, the US is an East Asia power, although not an Asian power, and its political, economic, and security interests within the region are deep-rooted, as are its commitments to regional stability and prosperity. Beijing has always welcomed a constructive U.S. role in regional affairs. At the identical time, however, Beijing also feels uneasy with certain aspects of U.S. policy. As a superpower, The US has been too dominant and intrusive in managing regional affairs. It fails to pay due regard to the voices of other regional players and sometimes gets too involved within the internal affairs of other states, lacking an understanding of their culture, history, and values.
The US and European aspects towards the South China Sea and East Asia should involve long-term perspectives of engaging ASEAN states. Such impacts will create room for the US to tackle China in the East Asian region. The development of any comprehensive strategic security policy is the need of the hour that assures one’s interest in the region. Both the states perceive a threat from each other and try to further advance their capabilities for the sake of safety and security. The US is not in a position to deal with the other power far away from its homeland, sustaining its military and protecting allies. Aggressive behavior in strategic competition can lead to unwanted results. The US would have to accept the strategic realities of China to normalize the relations. China on the other hand should rethink its policies in East Asia and Indo Pacific. However, as yet, deterrence has played its part by keeping states from a large-scale action. States running in the race of acquiring arms conventionally due to uprising strategic competitions are worsening any likely condition of conflict.
Key points for US:
In terms of identifying specific actions for a U.S. strategy for competing strategically with China in East Asia, a key element would be to possess a transparent understanding of which actions are intended to support which U.S. goals, and to take care of an alignment of actions with policy goals. Cost-imposing actions are actions intended to impose political/reputational, institutional, economic, or other costs on China for conducting certain activities within the East Asian Region, with the aim of persuading China to prevent or reverse those activities. Such cost-imposing actions need not be limited to the East Asian Region only.
The development of any comprehensive strategic security policy is the need of the hour that should involve joint military maritime exercises. The US and China have set their limits in coordinating military to military joint cooperation due to their desired interests and competition. Both the states perceive a threat from each other and try to further advance their capabilities for the sake of safety and security.
Summit for Democracy Attempts to Turn Multicolor Modern World into Black and White Divisions
One of the most important takeaways from the recent sixth plenary session of 19th CPC Central Committee is that Beijing flatly rejects Westernization as the path to modernize the Chinese society and the national economy. Instead, as it was underscored in the plenary Communiqué, the country will continue to stick to “socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era.” The leadership will preserve and further develop the system that served the people so well over last more than 70 years.
This statement did not come as a surprise to numerous China watchers all over the world. In fact, the critical choice between socialism and Western-type liberalism was not made in November of 2021, but decades ago.
One can argue that the outcomes of the sixth plenary session are yet another manifestation of a more general global trend: The world has been and will continue to be very diverse in terms of political systems, social models and economic patterns of individual nation states. Moreover, the odds are that this diversity will increase further literally in front of our eyes. Instead of the “end of history,” we will observe more intense multifaceted competition between different types of social development.
One way to react to this emerging reality is to accept it as a positive trend that enhances the overall stability of the global social system. The more diverse and complex the system is, the more resistant it is to various shocks and disturbances. To make a rough analogy with biology, a natural forest, which is a very diverse and complex ecosystem, is much more resistant to whims of the weather and natural disasters than a man-cultivated monocultural field. Accepting the trend, we should focus on how to manage competition within the increasingly diverse and complex world so that this competition will ultimately benefit all of us.
The other way to deal with this reality would be to start fighting against social, political and economic diversity by trying to advance one single model over all others. This is exactly what the Joe Biden administration is committed to doing by launching an ideological crusade against China, Russia and other nations that dare to deviate from the fundamentals of the Western development model. To make its case, the White House has announced a virtual Summit for Democracy to be hosted by the US on December 9–10 with the goal “to renew democracy at home and confront autocracies abroad.”
This vision reduces the multi-color palette of the modern world to a minimalist black and white graphics of a global fight between “democracies” and “autocracies.” It divides the international system into “us” and “them,” into “good” and “bad,” into “legitimate” and “illegitimate.” Such a reductionist system, if constructed, cannot be stable and shock-resistant by definition: Any major international crisis or a regional conflict could spark high risks of implosion.
It goes without saying that the nations of the world should firmly oppose corruption, abuses of power by state authorities and gross violations of human rights. If the goal of the Summit for Democracy were to confront these evils on a global scale, there would be no need to make the event exclusive by inviting mostly US friends and allies. If the goal is to advertise the US political, social and economic model, Washington should probably delay the summit and put its house in order first. If the goal is to isolate Beijing and Moscow in the world of politics, this is not likely to work well for the US.
Nations of the world have a right and even a duty to experiment with their political and social development paths. This experimenting contributes to the overall social experience of the humankind. Only history is in a position to judge what models turn out to be efficient, productive and fair and what models will find their place at the dump of human delusions. And history has a lot of means at its disposal to punish leaders, who believe that they possess a “one size fits all” model, which could successfully replace the existing diversity with an imposed universalism.
From our partner RIAC
The Chinese diplomatic force in the IAEA to confront Western leadership
At the level of international relations, through China’s presence in all the relevant international organizations, and its membership in all of the United Nations organizations, specifically in the International Atomic Energy Agency “IAEA”, China aims to play the role of the (international balancer), in light of its quest to maintain a certain level of competition with the United States of America politically and economically, this is in line with its desires to constantly play the role of the pole calling for (multipolarity and multilateral international pluralism through the Chinese political speeches of Chinese President “Xi Jinping”), in order to oppose American hegemony over the world and Washington’s policies to maintain its position as a single pole in the international community. China’s increase in its foreign investments, in order to enhance its economic hegemony over the world through its political and diplomatic tools with countries that have equal economic power with it in a number of (trade, scientific and technological issues, in addition to military and intelligence tools, as a reference for China’s new foreign political center).
We note that the patterns of Chinese foreign policy is (the pattern of dependence, which is based on the high level of foreign participation in all current global issues), to restrict the attempts of the United States of America to pass its decisions internationally, and therefore China is trying to enter the membership of all international organizations so that China’s foreign policies remain more comprehensive, broader and more effective in the global change, and to change all directions of these issues and control them in the United States, and this is one of its new political tools that serve its global expansion through the (Chinese Belt and Road Initiative).
In the same context, China focuses its external and competitive strength on its presence in effective international organizations, and rapprochement with the European Union, especially (France, Germany), despite not denying their relations with Washington, because of their strong influence in the global economy. In addition to China’s reliance on the plan of foreign and foreign investments in countries that influence American influence through the Belt and Road projects, as well as China’s resort to the import policy of many resources necessary to develop its economic capabilities from certain European countries to open influential relations with them, leading to (the Chinese strategy to obtain political support through the policies of alliances, consulates, representations, and its membership of international organizations), with the aim of influencing countries’ policies economically to pass important international decisions regarding the US challenge to China, such as: (the Iranian nuclear file, North Korea, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Syria, Venezuela, etc.), to increase with this The level of external penetration of China economically and politically).
China is mainly aiming to increase its membership in international organizations and the International Atomic Energy Agency, to (create a new balance of power and get rid of unipolarity restrictions through the medium powers and small states that the international system prevails with real pluralism, instead of the current state of American unipolarity).
In my personal opinion, the countries of the Middle East may find in the rise of China and Russia, and perhaps other international powers to re-compete the United States, as a (real opportunity to advance the effects of the pluralism of the international system at the regional level, and this would create more space for movement and opposition or bargaining and flexibility of movement for all to confront the policies of American hegemony, according to Chinese planning with Russia), and this also works to alleviate those restrictions and American dictates, and perhaps the sanctions and pressures it imposes on opponents of its approach internationally.
The strategy of competition between China and the United States has become China’s long-term strategy, which is based on (the necessity of a heavy Chinese presence in all international organizations and forums, which allows China to communicate with various global powers and balance its relations with them compared to Washington), as well as diversifying the People’s Republic of China for its relations and distribution of its power among the competing countries, which allows China to show wide options on all important issues, and the most dangerous is that this Chinese presence, which (allows Beijing to prejudice the foundations of its relationship with the United States of America and the other various powers around the world).
China and Russia also aim to form an alliance into all international and regional organizations to change the current provocative approach of the American policies in their confrontation, especially those related to mobilization policies and American alliances against them around the world. The Chinese alliance with Russia was so clear with the (Russian Foreign Minister “Sergey Lavrov’s visit” to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar, while on the other hand, both Kuwait and Qatar have received a member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and Director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the CPC Central Committee “Yang Jiechi”).
On the other hand, China is among the Security Council countries that have the largest number of (Chinese peacekeeping forces around the world), and China is at the forefront of the (most contributing countries to the international peacekeeping budget, in addition to sending naval fleets to carry out maritime guard missions according to according to the UN Security Council resolutions), and therefore China may play an important role in establishing security in many countries in the world, and this is perhaps what China plans to ensure its use, in the event of a decline in American interest in the security of many regions in the world, within the framework of (the strategy of pressure of the American expenditures, retreat and withdrawal from many places around the world and devote its concern to the American interior issues and its worsening economic crises).
The point is worthy to be considered here, is the report issued in July 2021 by the (International Atomic Energy Agency), entitled “Nuclear reactors around the world”, in which he analyzed China’s plan to (establish the dream of nuclear sovereignty around the world by starting to build and establish about 11 reactors). There are other Chinese nuclear reactors under construction, as well as the (new Chinese planning to build other 29 nuclear reactors), while the International Atomic Energy Agency’s work report on the other hand indicated that the known total number of reactors that are actually in service, other than those planned for construction, and other reactors under construction, is up to About 50 Chinese nuclear reactors, a step that confirms that “China is clearly shifting towards nuclear energy in the production of electricity, and depends on it directly in its industrial renaissance during the coming period, especially as it is the number one country in the world that is expanding in the establishment of nuclear plants, followed by Russia, which plans to build other 20 new nuclear reactors, while it has 38 nuclear reactors in active service”. Some leaks indicate the presence of Chinese nuclear reactors, exercises and tests in the “Doklam Desert” region on the borders of “Xinjiang” province in northwest China.
It also notes that, from the reality of the report issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency “IAEA”, its confirmation regarding (Chinese planning to become the first country in the world in the production of nuclear energy during the next ten years, in return for the decline in the share of the United States of America in nuclear reactors, which continues to the continuous decrease with the exit of new American numbers of reactors annually), as the future plan of the United States of America does not include the establishment of new reactors, which indicates that (the expansion of this type of energy tends towards China and Russia during the coming period, and these countries will have accumulated experiences, enabling them to dominate and control this new nuclear industry in various countries of the world, and this is what is actually common happening in the region). Knowing that its uses will be mainly peaceful and to serve the interests of peoples and countries, so we may witness the coming period intensifying the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency in many files around the world to study them, inspect different regions and various other areas to ensure (their peaceful uses of nuclear energy in many development projects around the world).
Hence, we almost understand (the importance of the Chinese presence and presence and its membership in the International Atomic Energy Agency in the first place), given that it actually owns 50 nuclear reactors in service, and its contribution to the production of electricity and providing energy to one and a half billion citizens, and China also has new nuclear reactors under construction, so (China seeks to be near the International Atomic Energy Agency, to embarrass, restrict and limit the American influence on the one hand against Beijing’s allies, led by Iran and then North Korea. Therefore, China has developed a strategic plan in the coming years, which is based on the intensity of the Chinese international presence and passing its foreign policies and decisions with the help of its Russian ally internationally).
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