Russia - India - China: A World Without a Hegemon
List of speakers

On June 25, the Valdai Club together with the Indian analytical centre Observer Research Foundation (ORF) held a discussion on the topic: "The Chinese factor in Russian-Indian relations". The moderator of the discussion, Andrey Sushentsov, Programme Director of the Valdai Club, pointed to the challenges that the US-China competition creates for  interaction between Russia and India. He posed the question of how the emergence of a new international system and the rise of China will affect the future of Russian-Indian relations.

Vasily Kashin, Deputy Director of the Centre for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Higher School of Economics, describing US-Chinese relations, noted that their military rivalry has grown in importance for both of them. This has led, among other things, to an increase in the military presence of China in the Indian Ocean, causing concern in India, and leading to a kind of chain reaction in the field of strategic weapons. The expert considers the struggle for positions in the economies of third countries and America's attempts to oust large Chinese companies from the markets to be another key front of the confrontation between the United States and China. Also important is American rhetoric, in which more and more claims are made about the very nature of the Chinese political system. Against this background, the mobilisation of the state and society is growing in China, and nationalism is growing. The most important irritant in relations between China and India remains the advancement of China to the other countries adjacent to India, which cannot always be explained by reasonable strategic interests. It is important for Russia and India not to fall prey to American schemes to contain China, to maintain the complete independence of their foreign policy, and to interact with each other, regardless of what kind of relations Russia has with China and India with the United States. “So far we have succeeded and, I hope, will succeed in the future,” Kashin said.

Abhijit Singh, head of the ORF maritime policy initiative, noted that Russia and India, despite their close relations with each other, have significant contradictions in their relations with China and the United States. Sceptics even believe that Russian-Indian relations have reached an impasse in this regard. Optimists, however, believe that these relations remain on a solid foundation and that the parties are ready to invest further in strategic interaction and maintain a privileged partnership. Finally, the proponents of a pragmatic approach are convinced that Indian-Russian relations need mutual adjustment based on the parties' awareness of each other's interests. In particular, Moscow should understand the logic of the integration of the Indo-Pacific region, Singh believes. Among the factors worrying India, Singh named the threat to relations with Western partners posed by the advancement of Russian-Indian ties, Russia's cooperation with China in the Indian Ocean, which could lead to the emergence of a Russian-Chinese "consortium" right at the door of India, and that Russia supplies arms to Pakistan ... “The future will be bright if we listen to each other's concerns,” summed up the Indian expert.

Aleksey Kupriyanov, Head of the South Asia and Indian Ocean Regional Group at the Centre for Asia-Pacific Studies at IMEMO E.M. Primakov RAS, proposed three theses. First, that the conflict between India and China is not existential and can be quickly resolved to a mutually satisfactory degree. Second, the Cold War between the United States and China is not eternal, and it is a huge mistake to build a strategy based on the alignment of a country with one side or the other. Third, that Russia's passive position in the world will be replaced by activity. In particular, this means a likely expansion of its presence in the Indian Ocean, regardless of relations with China. Kupriyanov made the conclusion that sooner or later India and China will resolve their contradictions. Moscow is quite happy with this, because it is important for it that there are several centres of power in Eurasia, and China is only one of them. Russia prefers a world in which there is no hegemon - a world with Chinese hegemony does not suit it any more than a world under American hegemony, he stressed.

Pilai Rajagopalan, Director of the ORF Centre for Security, Strategy and Technology, pointed to the growing influence of China in recent decades. While in the 1980s the power of China and India, including with respect to economics, was comparable, now China's GDP is five times that of India - and this influences the military, diplomatic and political spheres. Given China's willingness to use force against its neighbours, this state of affairs threatens India's security, she said. India cannot stand alone with China and turns to other countries for help, although it would like to preserve its autonomy. At the same time, according to the expert, Russia and India have diplomatic empathy towards each other, but due to the geopolitical situation, there is a tension in relations. Russia condemns India's involvement in the Indo-Pacific Alliance, while India believes that Russia is not sensitive to the Chinese factor. Rajagopalan emphasised that from the Indian point of view, this is not about "containing" China, it is about making it play by the rules and stop using force.

Viktor Sumsky, Leading Expert of the ASEAN Centre at MGIMO University, raised the topic of the trilateral dialogue "Russia - India - China". He noted that the onset of the "century of Asia" is now under threat - that is, the transformation of Asia into the main geoeconomic and geopolitical player, which seemed inevitable until recently. Given the relationship between China and India, in which suspicion and wariness prevail over the desire for cooperation, such a prospect is unrealisable. At the same time, Russia is interested in improving relations between China and India, because it finds a situation where it is compelled to choose between China and India unacceptable. This is what makes the idea of ​​a trilateral dialogue especially relevant. “Maybe the time has come when we need to think about the question of whether there is a certain trilateral project that can be implemented within a reasonable time frame to the equal benefit of Russia, India and China, despite everything that separates them. - Sumskiy declared. "Such an experience would be necessary to understand that these three forces need each other under any circumstances, and such a model of trilateral relations could be an important element of the framework of the Asian century, if it does take place."

At the end of the discussion, ORF Honorary Research Fellow Nandan Unnikrishnan emphasised that China is a problematic neighbour for India not only because of territorial conflicts, but also because it claims hegemony in Asia. If Russia and India want to prevent the emergence of a hegemon, it is necessary to discuss this topic, regardless of all existing contradictions and disagreements. “We need to communicate, we need to be more attentive to each other's concerns and set the right example for the world,” he said, expressing the hope that this will help find a compromise.