Editorial Notes

[Editorial Notes] China-Russia ties: Major determinant of Indian Foreign Policy

A proper analysis of the partnership between China and Russia is critical to the course of India’s foreign policy.
By IASToppers
August 21, 2020


  • Introduction
  • The Strategic Triangle
  • China-Russia Ties
  • China-Russia Trade
  • China’s rise, Russia’s unease
  • India-Russia Ties
  • Conclusion

China-Russia ties: Major determinant of Indian Foreign Policy

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At no point in near history since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, there has been such public bonhomie between leaders of Russia and China. The improving dimensions of their diplomatic formal alliance have sparked intense discussion on what that could mean for the rest of the world. A proper analysis of the partnership between the two is critical for India’s foreign policy.

The Strategic Triangle:

  • The triangular relationship between the U.S., China and Russia has shaped global politics since 1950.
  • At the time of cold war era (primarily between U.S. and U.S.S.R.), the road to victory for the U.S. was through improved relations with China.
  • But the tables have turned today, and the relations between the U.S. and China have reached a new low.
  • In this scenario, Russia seems to believe that the road to the revival of Russian power and prestige similarly runs through China.
  • India is not a part of this triangle, yet they represent our three most consequential relationships.
  • So, India needs to be careful about the current developments in the key triangle.

China-Russia Ties:

  • Even before COVID-19, due to trade war and tensions in Sino-U.S. relations, the dynamics of this strategic triangle were changing.
  • The disintegration of the Soviet Union essentially negated the Russian threat in Chinese eyes.
  • The three pillars on which Sino-Russian partnership currently rests are a peaceful boundary, expanding trade and shared distrust of American intentions.
  • Western sanctions have tended to push the Russians closer to China.
  • Falling oil prices and fears of new sanctions on Russian gas supplies (Nord Stream 2) are diminishing Russian exports to Europe, thus compelling Russia to depend to an even greater degree in China.
  • Western actions to punish Russia have served to strengthen China’s position in the strategic triangle.

China-Russia Trade:

  • After the western sanctions, China-Russia trade has more than doubled to $108 billion.
  • Russia’s central bank has increased its Chinese currency reserves from less than 1% to over 13%.
  • China has surpassed Germany as the principal supplier of industrial plant and technology.
  • Russia presently enjoys a nominal trade surplus but China has a clear advantage going forward.
  • Most of its exports to Russia are now at a higher technology level while the share of labour-intensive goods has declined.
  • The Russian exports have continued to focus on raw materials, especially oil and gas.
  • The investment relationship is done where it suits China’s core energy interests, such as the Power of Siberia (a $400 billion deal over 30 years to supply gas to China from Russian far east along 1,800 miles long pipeline).

Strategic Alliance:

  • The two countries are involved in coordinated action in multilateral forums, increasingly sophisticated joint military exercises.
  • They are involved in the issues concerning the neighbourhood like activities in Iran etc.
  • Further, the supply of the Russian S-400 missile system to China is touted as an example of the budding strategic alliance.
  • However, over the long term, their interests are divergent and flourishing due to their shared dislike of the U.S.

China’s rise, Russia’s unease:

  • The growing power-gap is threatening to further reduce Russian influence in their ‘near-abroad’ and to confine Russia to the periphery of global power.
  • Russia still regards itself as a world power and hopes to be at the centre of a Eurasian arrangement that stretches from the Pacific to the Atlantic.
  • It considers U.S.-led hegemony as the primary threat to this vision, and this leads them on to make common cause with China.
  • This does not make Russian concerns about China disappear.
  • Russia is concerned about growing asymmetry and China’s pre-eminence even in Central Asia and Arctic regions, and Chinese migration in the Russian Far East.
  • Russia is in real danger of permanently becoming the ‘junior partner’.
  • The policymakers in Russia must be concerned about the possibility of China becoming a threat to Russia’s territorial integrity.

India-Russia ties:

  • Hence, the changing diplomacy in the neighbourhood makes out a case for India to re-calculate its relationship with Russia.
  • Russia has been a key strategic partner in political, defence and energy domains of India since India’s independence.
  • At present, India reaches out to Russia out of necessity, since it believes Russia has leverage and influence to change China’s hard stance on the ongoing border issue.
  • Russia-India-China (RIC) is a significant multilateral grouping that brings together the three largest Eurasian countries which are also incidentally geographically contiguous.
  • A strategic partnership with Russia based on the absence of fundamental conflicts of interest is important for India.


Some form of multi-polarity is better than completely cutting off diplomatic channels. India’s quest for the autonomy of action is based on its geographical realities, historical legacies and global ambitions — not a residual Cold War mindset. The future course of India’s foreign policy will largely depend on the upcoming regime in the U.S. and the level of engagement of China and Russia.

Mains 2020 Editorial Notes

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