“Xi and Modi Map Out New Era”, China Daily reported. What kind of new era could that be? Radio VR is discussing it with Boris Volkhonsky, the Head of Asia Section at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies.
Last week’s visit to India paid by the Chinese leader resulted in numerous agreements opening the way for cooperation projects worth billions of dollars and, what’s even more important, raising prospects of a new – and unprecedented – regional alliance. “Xi and Modi Map Out New Era”, China Daily reported. What exactly are the strategic shifts under way in Asia and what kind of new era could they create?
Boris Volkhonsky: The results of the visit can be measured by several criteria. First of all, the number of agreements signed during the visit is tremendous. It is about 20 agreements in different spheres, ranging from infrastructure (road building, port infrastructure building), customs regulations, trade, cooperation in outer space and in nuclear energy, as well as in cultural sphere, and the twin cities agreement between Mumbai and Shanghai. But that is the quantitative measure.
The more important is the qualitative measure of this visit. And it is very notable to say that the two leaders – the Chinese President Xi Jinping and the Indian Premier Narendra Modi – may be called the newcomers. Narendra Modi came to power only this spring and Xi Jinping a little bit more than one year ago. And so, the road ahead is very wide and, hopefully, bright, because Narendra Modi will keep his position, if nothing extraordinary happens, for at least five years and Xi Jinping for about 9 more years to come.
So, the agreements between the leaders of the two – I would say – main Asia powers really show that there is a very important geopolitical and strategic shift in this part of the world, because the two leaders are common in their non-acceptance of the unipolar world. And that has been shown on many occasions. The two countries have developed a very strong cooperation in different international formats, like the BRICS or G20, or, when India was the member of the Security Council, in the Security Council of the UN etc.
Now, there is a very strong probability that in about one year India will become a full member of Shanghai Cooperation Organization. There is also a common understanding among the political experts that India should become a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and so on. So, this shows that the two countries, despite all the differences that exist in the bilateral relations, are ready to establish a very fruitful and cooperative approach to both the bilateral relations and regional matters, as well as to global matters.
You know, when we compare the situations across the Eurasian continent, if we look at the ME, the main trend seems to be fragmentation and a sharp increase in insecurity, as national borders tend to be erased, and no one knows who is in control of what.
Now, just across the continent we have a totally different, an opposite, trend of two main regional powers being drawn towards each other. But, like you said, they had a lot of differences in the history of their relations. What,do you think, could be the impetus that actually pushed them to try to overcome their differences?
Boris Volkhonsky: It wouldn’t be easy to forget the differences, because, as you said, drawing an example from the ME, there are lots of border problems. And just a couple of days before Xi Jinping came to India, as it was reported by the Indian media, the Chinese troops intruded into the disputed territory in Kashmir and took positions 500 meters beyond the border of control. China has not recognized the Indian state Arunachal Pradesh as part of the Indian territory. It considers Arunachal Pradesh to be the so-called southern Tibet.
So, these differences remain and they definitely influence the public opinion, and the public opinion has a strong influence upon the politicians, including the highest levels of political establishment. And Narendra Modi has an image of a strong-hand politician and he has to listen to those opinions and those talks about China being the main intruder. So, it is not a very easy task to forget the differences.
But, as some Indian expert once said, a couple of years ago, and I always quote his phrase, that you may be friends but have no cooperation, and you may have a very fruitful cooperation without being friends. And for India, as far as I remember, China is the second largest trading partner. Now, that they have signed the agreements on cooperation in infrastructural projects, the amount of Chinese investments is expected to range somewhere between $100-300 billion. And that is a very important thing for India, because that is a country where roads are one of the main headaches for the society.
So, I think that cooperation in the spheres that do not involve the disputes about such problems as borders, will eventually help forget the problems themselves. That also concerns the Shanghai Cooperation issue that I've mentioned previously, because it is not only India that is going to become the fulltime member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, but also Pakistan.
And if that happens…well, maybe I'm a little bit overoptimistic, but you remember that in Europe border issues between France and Germany sort of haunted the whole history of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. But now, Strasbourg, which is the capital of Alsace, has become the capital of the united Europe and no one actually bothers whether that is the French territory or the German.
So, cooperation in the spheres like economy, like people-to-people contacts, and infrastructure, first of all, that will definitely help to overcome the differences on such issues like borders and so on.
Before his visit to India Mr. Xi, as far as I remember, said that he actually had planned to include border issue in the agenda of the visit, discussing it with his Indian counterpart. Did they discuss it?
Boris Volkhonsky: They did mention it. I'm not sure about how the discussion went on, because it was behind the closed doors, but they did mention it and they couldn’t help mentioning it, because the Chinese so-called intrusion into what Indian regards its territory, it took place just a day or two before the visit. So, this issue was definitely mentioned, but not much emphasis was put on this.
In fact, since you’ve mentioned cooperation without friendship, as far as I understand, nothing brings the parties closer than common challenges. What would you identify as common challenges for both, India and China?
Boris Volkhonsky: I don’t want to repeat the stereotypes from the Soviet times, but the common challenge for the whole humanity is the unipolar world and what it implies. The US in 2011 declared a “pivot to Asia”, the return to Asia-Pacific, which was definitely aimed at the containment of China. To a certain extent that coincides with the Indian interests, because India is also not very happy about the Chinese expansion in the Indian Ocean and India has its own game in the southeast Asia, its Look East policy aimed at cooperation with such countries as Vietnam, the Philippines, Singapore and others.
But a couple of years ago India also yielded to the US pressure and joined the regime of sanctions against Iran, and reduced its imports of the Iranian oil. It resulted in the skyrocketing of prices not only for fuel, but also for all the commodities and, eventually, it resulted in the fall of the previous government. So, India has a very negative experience of going in the wake of this unilateral-unipolar policies. So, I think that the unipolar world is the main challenge and this is what brings the two regional powers together.
And how does this development translate into the architecture of BRICS?
Boris Volkhonsky: I think you understand perfectly well that all the events taking place in different parts of the world are not just isolated events, but they are all linked. And, for example, the events in Ukraine are part of the global strategy aimed at weakening this newly emerging pole. And the US, in dealing with the countries which are the pillars of BRICS (and these definitely are Russia, China and India), applies different approaches to every one of these three pillars.
It has launched a direct confrontation with Russia. It applies arm-twisting policies against China and concealed threats that something may happen, not really explaining what may happen. And it is definitely aiming at bringing India closer to the US’s policies, which was clearly demonstrated by the three high-level visits of the US ministers, including the Secretary for Defense and the Secretary of State in August. And there are lots of expectations in the US that the forthcoming visit by Narendra Modi to the UN and his meeting with Barack Obama will bring the two countries together.
Definitely, India is not interested in spoiling the relations with the US, but it doesn’t mean that India is a servile ally of the US in Asia. For example, they have a very deep contradiction on the issue of the WTO, because the US wants to force India to reject the policies of subsidizing its agriculture, which will result in tremendous misfortunes for hundreds of millions of people in India. So, India is very firm in stating its position and defending it. And you understand that if the three countries of Eurasia are drawn apart, then we will not speak about any BRICS at all.
And when we are talking about this trend of China and India, hopefully and ultimately, joining their efforts, what is in it for Russia? Are there any new opportunities opening for us?
Boris Volkhonsky: Again, we may speak on different levels. For example, one very practical thing is the proposed pipeline, which will go to China from Siberia, prolonging it further to India, which is impossible without the Chinese cooperation, definitely. So, this is just one earthly example of it.
But, speaking strategically, it means that combining the economic power of China, India and Russia, and a political stance of Russia, China and India, we may say that this will really end the unipolar system, which I think is a very obvious and a very desirable result for Russia.
True. But it also implies that we are going to run into a huge opposition to that trend?
Boris Volkhonsky: From?
From its opponents.
Boris Volkhonsky: From the West, haven't we already run into that opposition?
And the opposition might be growing, because, really, the prospects are challenging for the West and so promising for the three countries we’ve been talking about.
Boris Volkhonsky: Yes, that’s why I said that they are trying to implement different tactics to the different members of this triangle. There definitely have been and there will be the efforts to bring the three countries apart. But I think that Russia has shown very positively that nothing is going to impede its relations with China.
And we also look forward to President Putin’s visit to India which is going to happen in November or early December this year. And it will not be the first meeting between Putin and Narendra Modi, because they already met at the BRICS summit in Brazil. And I think that, again, that summit was very significant in terms of establishing this development bank of the BRICS, which also presents a very strong challenge for the monetary system based on Bretton Woods’ principles.
So, do I get you right that we are on the threshold of quite inspiring, quite challenging and very interesting period in the development of our continent?
Boris Volkhonsky: Definitely! We are already in it, I think we’ve already passed the threshold, because we already are in a very interesting and very challenging, mainly, period of our history.