• 20 June, 2024
Foreign Affairs, Geopolitics & National Security

Should India Be Worried About Russia-China Bonhomie ?

Cdr Sandeep Dhawan (Retd) Sun, 20 Feb 2022   |  Reading Time: 5 minutes

It had been two years since Russian President Putin had met Chinese President Xi Jinping. That drought got over when they met on the sidelines of the opening ceremony of the 2022 Beijing Olympics on 4th February. Most observers thought that the two leaders would intensify their anti-Western agenda. No such thing happened overtly. If that is the case, why has Russia reduced its force level to a strength never seen since 1922 at China and Mongolia borders? Is there a secret pact between Putin and Xi Jinping?

The Expectations

If we leave aside speculation and a tacit agreement, China has not been very forthcoming in its support. China was expected to assist Russia economically so that it withstands Western sanctions in the present state, as well as when it invades Ukraine. It was also expected that they would give joint statements on Ukraine and Taiwan, indicating a two-front conflict that will see China and Russia moving against their targets. However, no such statement came out. Finally, Putin didn’t achieve much and left Beijing with just a 30-year energy deal that will take a few years to fructify.

China limited its support to Russia regarding NATO’s security guarantees with just a mention in the statement. The Chinese dilly-dallying indicates that China doesn’t want to strain its relations with Europe any further. Putin will understand this aspect sooner or later if he hasn’t already grasped it.

What Is At Stake For China And Russia

Russia’s economic relationship with China has grown almost four-fold in the last decade. Today bilateral trade stood at $146 billion. Russia expects it to grow to $200 billion by 2024. China imports mainly oil and natural gas while exporting finished goods to Russia. Russia supports the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) by granting a natural gas pipeline from Siberia to China. It is noteworthy that Russia-US trade is nothing substantial, but Russia-EU trade already stands at $220 billion. NATO members account for 70 percent of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Russia. Similarly, China’s trade with the EU-Britain combine is ten times the trade it has with Russia.

Are both nations ready to doom that economic opportunity? Experts point to Europe’s energy dependence on Russia. However, that is half the picture. Russia also depends on the oil revenue from the European Union, which is nearly 40 percent of Russian budgeted revenue. A tricky question that stares at Russia and China is that, can they afford the misadventure?

The $11 billion Russia-Germany Nord Stream II pipeline will be the first casualty of the post-war era. Russia is already feeling the pinch of the existing US and European sanctions. China is no better. It is reeling under the slowed-down economy, food shortages, exploding debt to GDP ratio, and a declining population (the Chinese population is set to decrease by 60 percent in next 45 years), and it is in no position to upset the European Union.

The Relationship Of Desperation

China and Russia are known to scratch each other’s back in the United Nations and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). China also needs Russian oil and gas; however, the relationship is need-based. If the need goes, so does the relationship. Both the leaders know that they have offended too many nations and bitten more than they can chew.

It is always challenging for two large neighbors, vying for their sphere of influence, to get along without differences. China and Russia also have their friction points, and the opposing forces can exploit them. In China, there have been marathon brainstorming sessions to assess what is there for China if Russia invades Ukraine. The experts couldn’t find any merit in war thousands of miles away at the cost of all we have discussed.

In addition to the ongoing Winter Olympics, China already has enough on its plate. Continuous tension and strained relations with Australia, India, Japan, and the US; internal struggle in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong; hawkish stand with Taiwan and the South China Sea nations. Therefore, it downplayed the Xi-Putin meeting and hardly gave any coverage in the mainstream media. Continued expansion of NATO finds mentioned in one paragraph. There was no mention of ‘roll back NATO from existing alliances’ and ‘Ukraine.’ Since China-Russia are fair-weather friends, one may not go to war just because the other does; therefore, even alliance word doesn’t get mentioned. Later, the Chinese foreign ministry, in its briefings and television coverage, even skipped the word ‘NATO’.

Nineteen European nations are onboard Xi’s pet project, BRI. Any further deterioration in the relationship may derail the project. The Chinese leadership is well aware of how much it can nudge the European Union. China witnessed a strong rally in support of Lithuania from all member states in the recent past. From time to time, Xi himself steps in to soothe the relationship if he feels that some official has crossed the line. China’s support to Russia on the Ukraine issue is symbolic and in no way an approval for war.

China is also aware that any overt support to Russia would attract sanctions from the United States and the West. The US has already sanctioned 175 Chinese tech companies. The Chinese experts have cautioned the government about the adverse effects of restrictions on technology transfer.

The present Chinese economic numbers are the worst in the last four decades. A war in Europe would further adversely affect the situation. CCP’s 20th National Congress is planned for October 2022. This event is personally significant for Xi Jinping. The Congress would decide on the fate of Xi’s third term as the President of China. While Xi is not leaving any stone unturned to retain that post, his detractors sharpen their knives. Therefore, he is not going to sacrifice his ambition for the sake of Russia.

All Is Not Well

While China has its issues, Russians also have their concerns, and China is in no mood to address those concerns. The most significant contentious point is Central Asia. Russia strives to maintain primacy and military influence in the region. It is watching Chinese economic influence and the progress of BRI in the region with Hawk-eye, but their main concerns are related to how diplomats and PLA plan to make inroads into this region. If Chinese leadership is intelligent and has taken their lessons from the Ukraine crisis, they should know interfering in the Russian sphere of influence is a big no-no.

Another area of Russian concern is the Arctic. The region’s natural resources are a goldmine for Russia, but it needs Chinese money power to continue the exploration. Even though Russia controls the logistics part of this Polar Silk Road, it remains suspicious of future Chinese plans in the region.

Russia and China have also been noncommittal to each other’s territorial claims. Russia maintains neutrality in the South China Sea and continues its explorations for Vietnam. China returns the favor and doesn’t come out clearly on its stand on Crimea.

The predatory Chinese economic practices in the far east make Russia extremely unhappy. China has a huge demand for timber and other natural resources that are smuggled from this resource-rich region. The Chinese processing factories on the Chinese side of the border leave Russia high and dry without gaining any economic or employment benefits.

Indian Concerns

Many Indian analysts show anxiety over the Russia-China bonhomie. Their concerns are valid, but the reasons are not. India need not worry but rather be vigilant so that the fast-changing geopolitical vista doesn’t spring surprises.

From India’s perspective, the Ukraine crisis presents an opportunity to assess the Russia-China bonding that was always need-based.

Finally, when should India start worrying? The day Putin and Xi get challenged internally (and that day is not far, especially for Xi). Because both leaders will not give up their coveted posts easily and may come together to put up a fight that will endanger every neighbour.

“There is a difference between, when a nation raises questions with you, and questions you. Choose your strategic partners wisely” ~ Insightful Geopolitics


A veteran of the Indian Navy, Cdr Dhawan served in the Navy from 1988 to 2009. He was a Maritime Reconnaissance Pilot and a Flying Instructor. He is a geopolitical analyst and writes for various online websites and organizations.


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Cheryl Batavia

Mar 19, 2022
A very informative and thoughtful post. It gives insight into political relationships.

Kalidan Singh

Mar 03, 2022
Of course India should be concerned, and worry. Who would worry about India, if India did not? The Russia-China relationship is unconcerned with India, but China harbors territorial ambitions in Indian territory and is a big booster of Pakistan (their relationship is supposedly deeper than the oceans and taller than the mountains, etc). If China coopts Russia, the consequences on our well being are existential. If we are truly, truly worried - there is at least one thing we should do. I.e., require all Indian firms to compete in an open marketplace so that it is no longer a dumping ground of over-prices, shoddy quality goods that it has been since independence. It is time for Indian manufacturers to figure out how to create quality products anyone wants to buy at a premium, and not rely on low-cost value added stuff. We need to get to a $10 trillion economy not just by imagining it, or thinking about it, or talking about it, but by doing it. Among the things getting in the say are corruption, crony capitalism, closed and protected markets, poor education for women, and generally awful nutrition. Unless aggressors fear immediate and lethal retaliation, even basket case countries like Pakistan do not hesitate to send terrorists willy nilly into our country (they fear zero consequences). Our retaliations thus far are couched in mystery. The next time we should do this with TV cameras running.

Malay Asthana

Mar 01, 2022
Very informative and well thoroughly researched article.

Sid Gupta

Feb 27, 2022
As usual. A good analysis.

K Sreenivas

Feb 27, 2022
It's like a WW3 in slow motion. Last few years China was the aggressor now it's Russia, US has been the White collared one where they make it seem like they are saving another country! Finally the Defence industry rules!

elizabeth dunn

Feb 27, 2022
"Because both leaders will not give up their coveted posts easily and may come together to put up a fight that will endanger every neighborhood." Agree!

GP Singh

Feb 23, 2022
China is eyeing for Russian technology, weapons and ultimately territory which it has hinted previously. Another angle may be to set a precedence to legitimise its territorial ambitions . Russia has lost its geographic advantage post collapse of USSR . It also has demographic disadvantage in the long run. So China is the real challenge to US dominated concept of a unipolar world . To counter this challenge , India seems to be the only country which can be fielded against China. For Russia also only India can be an alternative to Chinese support. The game is set to be interesting. India must make use of the situation to strengthen its military and economy by playing its diplomatic cards well. Great topic.

Sukhjit singh

Feb 22, 2022
A very well written article The things are changing really fast with Ukraine development. I don't think we need to be unduly disturbed about their friendship. They are together because of western sanction s affecting them both, but no real history of friendship

Rajesh Dhawan

Feb 22, 2022
Once again you have put up the details very nicely on the contemporary topic. Rassia is bent upon creating problems. They have some hidden agenda to increase fuel prices and also US is backing it to sell more arms to Europian countries. US has to think on this. Even if they put sanctions on Russia, it will not work because at present Russia is sitting on best economic seat. It has lots of oil stock with 10% of world manufacturing. They would gain further upon increase of oil prices. Sanctions didn't work even earlier like in N. Korea, Syria, Iran etc. All of them are surviving and are getting strong. Even Russia came out of 2008. Let us see what is strength of of NATO army. Can they stay stand against strength of Russian on border. India has to take middle path like during NAM but if really required then they should side with Russia because of present defence tie up with them China is just watching to see that US and NATO fail to protect Ukraine. So that his interest to save Taiwan will be fulfilled as China can invade Taiwan without having good military strength. That way China can take full control over semiconductor companies in Taiwan and that will be a big setback for the world and particularly for India to implement their future Semiconductor plan.

Samarth Dixit

Feb 22, 2022
Superb article, great effort!

Vijay Nair

Feb 22, 2022
Getting more interesting with Putin signing a decree recognising ‘ancient Russian land’ of Donetsk & Lugansk People's Republics. Xi also has lots of ‘ancient Chinese land’ lined up. Let’s await some more declarations

elizabeth dunn

Feb 22, 2022
Hi Sando, Would be interested in joining this site. Can you help me? Liz
chanakyaforum – Feb 22, 2022:
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elizabeth dunn

Feb 22, 2022
Hi Sando, If possible, I'd like to join your site. Any advice? Liz

elizabeth dunn

Feb 22, 2022
Sando; do you have room for another poster/member? Liz

Rakesh P

Feb 21, 2022
Very well articulated and timely article. However, I would like to point out that the bilateral trade between Russia-China is 15 times the Russia-India bilateral trade. Till the time this difference exists, Russia will not only continue to tilt towards China but from time to time needle India through Chinese vassal state Pakistan.

Raman Gupta

Feb 21, 2022
There are always multiple aspects to any situation, and you help bring the least obvious Ines to the fore.

Keith Kenny

Feb 21, 2022
I think your assessment is correct. Both China and Russia have lower-hanging fruit to take. But I suspect both countries will try to play in India's internal problems—and possibly involve Pakistan. How the world treats Russia's encroachments on Ukraine and China's on Taiwan will be telling. I suspect, after brief periods of staged hyperbolic outrage over international law violations and human rights, the world will stand down and go back to trading. Russia's and China's next steps, as you say, will likely depend on stability at home. While there are variations, the script is an old one.

Atul Dewan

Feb 21, 2022
The complexities of Sino-Russian relation are diverse. A very timely article which throws ample light on the current situation and relations.

Jiten Vadhera

Feb 21, 2022
Very insightful, balanced and well articulated review of the present situation.

Narinder Pal Singh Hora

Feb 21, 2022
Another angle, that needs food for thought, nicely brought out by Sandeep. It appears that it is going to be a wait and watch situation. Hope we have enough analytical minds monitoring this situation

Aninda Mukherjee

Feb 21, 2022
Excellent analysis of a complex issue. Examines the environment from diverse angles and offers a considered point of view. As always an eye opener.

Wendell Bruges

Feb 21, 2022
Another analytical article, Commander. Thanks for sharing.

Cdr Mathews

Feb 21, 2022
Excellent analysis.The solution India needs to become Defence power.Will it happen under present circumstances merely by a Make in India campaign.Deep analysis need to be done at Govt and Mod level.

Kalidan Singh

Feb 20, 2022
Should we worry about Russia-China linkage? Will worrying help? I think it is a waste of time to obsess over their relationship, we have much to focus on (i.e., the existence of an Indian bureaucracy and corruption in our own nation that is so deeply embedded that economic activity is stifled, dis-empowerment of women, religious and caste based hate and violence, unchecked population growth, and a tendency toward hubris and self-glorification). I thank Mr. Modi for the self-reliance movement. His key people are doing an amazing job in a country where the opposition exists to stop and destroy everything, even selling their souls to hostile neighbors in the process. Our per capita GDP is $2000 per year (behind Ghana). We should worry about our place in global politics after this number is $20,000, maybe $40,000. I.e., we need each citizen to function at ten and twenty times our current productivity - before anyone takes us seriously, and anyone in Russia and China pay attention to us. I.e., let's redouble, the quadruple our effort to develop our own arms industry, focus on training our military, and fix our logistics and supply chains (which are woefully inadequate at present). Lets leave worrying about China-Russia relationship to others. When we cannot even get uniforms, food, guns, bullets, shells to our boys fighting in the front, our inflated sense of self-importance does not behoove us.

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