Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China and India have maintained a neutral attitude, in part to avoid criticizing Moscow directly. Beijing and New Delhi have made the decision to retain their tight diplomatic ties with Russia while sticking to their respective strategic interests in the area. As a consequence, China and India have persistently pushed for peaceful dispute resolution via discussion and conversation.
A recent development, however, raises the possibility that these powers’ positions on the Ukrainian situation may have changed. China and India both voted in support of a U.N. resolution on April 26 titled “Cooperation between the United Nations and the Council of Europe,” which unequivocally recognized Russian aggression against Ukraine. The resolution acknowledged the “unprecedented challenges now facing Europe following the aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine, and against Georgia prior to that.”
The resolution was rejected by Russia and its most ardent supporters, including Belarus and North Korea. The majority of nations that have been attempting to take a neutral posture, including Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan in Central Asia, abstained or did not cast a vote. China and India, as well as a few other nations that have generally abstained (such as Mongolia and Kazakhstan), nevertheless, expressed their support for the resolution.
This event may not necessarily represent a shift in China’s and India’s attitudes toward Russia. However, it is noteworthy considering that both countries have chosen to abstain from voting on prior U.N. resolutions condemning Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
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Even after the Ukraine conflict started in 2014, China and Russia have recently maintained a solid relationship. Strategic cooperation between the two countries has strengthened their military and economic connections. China and Russia’s strategic cooperation is a key component of both nations’ efforts to counter the dominance of the United States on the world stage. The West has made serious accusations against China and Russia for their purported abuses of human rights and total contempt for liberal democracy and democratic norms. Although China and Russia’s relationship is sometimes referred to as a “marriage of convenience,” it has become more significant for both nations as they work to balance out American hegemony and pursue their own strategic objectives both locally and internationally.
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China opted to avoid becoming involved in the situation in Ukraine as a consequence. Nevertheless, there are considerable Chinese economic stakes in the area. Ukraine is one of the main producers of iron ore, and China is one of the biggest consumers. Ukraine serves as a crucial transit country for China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, which aims to build an infrastructural network linking China to Europe and beyond. Chinese businesses have also made significant investments in Ukraine’s agricultural and technological sectors.
A number of Chinese corporations, including significant institutions like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Bank of China, stopped operating in Russia after the conflict broke out as a result of the severe international economic sanctions and pressure from the international community. By avoiding direct engagement, this strategy enables China to retain balanced strategic ties with both Russia and Western countries while still remaining neutral in the crisis.
Although China has traditionally remained neutral in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, it has lately stepped its public demands for a peaceful settlement and reaffirmed Beijing’s support for the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. On April 26, the day before the U.N. vote on “Cooperation between the United Nations and the Council of Europe,” Chinese President Xi Jinping had his first direct contact with the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. In response to the phone conversation, Xi’s special envoy is already beginning preliminary discussions with European colleagues about a prospective peace agreement.
China is making more serious attempts to maintain a truly neutral posture than the so-called pro-Russia neutrality it has been accused of by choosing to support the recent U.N. resolution on cooperation with the Council of Europe, despite the explicit condemnation of Russia.
While comparable to China’s, India’s position is unique in many aspects. India and Russia have a complex and long-standing relationship that has included years of political, military, and economic collaboration. Russia continues to be a big military supplier to India for both weaponry and technologies. Since the start of the conflict, Russia has also backed India’s position on Kashmir and established itself as a crucial ally of India in international fora like the UN. Over time, Russia and India’s economic relations grew beyond the military industry to include industries like energy, infrastructure, and medicines. Overall, mutual trust and shared objectives at the regional and international levels characterize India’s ties with Russia.
A variety of security issues have a significant impact on India’s position on the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The primary principle of India’s long-standing foreign policy is non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. India’s position to the Ukraine crisis is shaped by this policy, which concentrates on the Westphalian concept of sovereignty and territorial integrity of a state. India is especially cautious when it comes to any acts or firm declarations towards Ukraine since India is a country with its own territorial disputes, such as the Kashmir conflict. Any steps done by the international community at this time might serve as a model for future outside intervention in similar wars and disputes. India has adopted a neutral position in the Ukraine issue and advocated for diplomatic settlement of the situation via peaceful diplomacy and communication.
India, on the other hand, expressed its worries about the rise in tensions and the crisis’s impact on world stability while still taking a neutral posture. When meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in September, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made headlines by telling Putin that “today’s era is not the era for war,” which was widely seen as a criticism. In light of New Delhi’s worries about China, India has also shown a strong convergence with the United States, which prompted Modi to attend the G-7 conference in Hiroshima, Japan. Strong criticism of Russia was spoken throughout the conference, with Zelenskyy’s presence being particularly notable.
The frequent abstentions of China and India in United Nations resolutions that express direct or indirect condemnation of Russian activities in Ukraine have drawn the mild resentment of Western allies. Thus, there have been rumors about the recent surprising development of both nations voting in support of a United Nations resolution that depicts Russia as an aggressor towards Ukraine. This action reveals a dramatic shift in China’s and India’s foreign policy. Although China and India have maintained close military and economic ties with Russia, their support for the United Nations resolution shows a subtlety in their approach to balancing their own strategic objectives. This change emphasizes how difficult it is to reconcile national objectives with the complex dynamics of international relations. It has not yet been determined if this vote would indicate a bigger change in foreign policy or whether it is only an isolated incident.
It is evident that China and India are having a difficult time balancing their strategic interests in relation to the conflict in Russia and Ukraine. Both nations heavily rely on Russian resources and have extensive military, economic, and energy ties with Russia, as was previously said. Therefore, maintaining good ties with Russia while balancing support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty looks to be a very difficult issue.
Furthermore, non-interference and non-intervention are prioritized by China and India as two of the most important foreign policy norms, dismissing unilateral meddling in a state’s internal affairs, which runs counter to Western expectations of a forceful, forthright denunciation of Russia.
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Last but not least, as key players in the world order, China and India have a huge difficulty in maintaining effective ties with both Russia and the West while remaining neutral in the conflict. It takes careful balancing acts to effectively manage these obstacles, which are impacted by not just perceived national interests but also by global dynamics and the constantly evolving character of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
China and India have many reasons to want the Ukrainian crisis to be resolved since they are linked to both sides of the conflict. Both nations, who are big powers, may use their diplomatic clout and their friendly ties to Russia and Ukraine to create a discourse that encourages a peaceful end to the crisis. In light of this, China and India’s decision to switch from abstention to support on the April 26 U.N. resolution may indicate an understanding of the severity of the crisis and a renewed desire to forward diplomatic attempts for conflict mediation and settlement in Ukraine.
In conclusion, it is not entirely accurate to describe China’s and India’s support for a U.N. resolution that just mentions Russian aggression in Ukraine as a strategic action against Russia and a fundamental change in their foreign policy. Despite the significance of the event, it would be premature to conclude that this vote represented a fundamental shift in the United States’ foreign policy toward Russia; it may just have been a tactical maneuver. There is no obvious deterioration in the ties between China and India and Russia continues to be a significant ally of both countries. Having said that, as significant countries, China and India might help mediate the crisis in the case of Ukraine, and their engagement can unquestionably assist to de-escalation, if not full settlement.