Arguably India’s most significant foreign policy manoeuvre in recent times ~ its intensifying engagement with the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue with USA, Japan, and Australia to jointly establish a rules-based international order in the Indo-Pacific and in doing so contain Chinese expansionism ~ needs more follow-up action than has hitherto been in evidence.
Nothing is static in geopolitics. Beijing is moving rapidly to counter the Quad with an attempt to build a four-state alliance of its own by wooing Russia, Iran and Pakistan. While this development may be seen as a backhanded compliment to the strategic synergies created and heft gained by the Quad in a short period of time which has China deeply worried, the flip side is that New Delhi needs to start working on its response to this move now, and not end up reacting to it later.
As a timeline, the counter-strategy to be adopted which can play on the inherent contradictions in a putative China-Russia-Pakistan-Iran bloc and undermine it needs to be formulated and finalised so it can be adopted at the summit of leaders of the Quad democracies scheduled for later in the year in Washington. India will have to do much of the heavy lifting in this regard.
Despite Moscow’s pique at New Delhi pivoting to the West, underlined by India having spread its defence purchases across major military-systems supplier countries rather than continue with its virtual one-country dependence on Russia, IndoRussian ties are still warm and have a certain depth. The Kremlin’s growing closeness to China ~ and by implication its client-state Pakistan ~ is a concern, of course.
The deepening Sino-Russian relationship as evidenced in the comprehensive strategic partnership between the two major powers, especially but not exclusively in the areas of energy security and sharing of defence technologies, is a fact there is no running away from. India has some leverage, though, and it may make sense to respond more positively to Russian overtures which, unlike in the past, are now primarily transactional in nature.
The Russian deep state’s apprehensions regarding China’s ambitions to emerge as a global power to rival the USA, which militates against its long-held belief that it is Russia as the successor state to the Soviet Union which should lead such an effort, is a fault line which ought to be assiduously exploited. Beijing’s territorial claims in the Russian Far East have always caused unease in Moscow and it would be in India’s interest to flag these more aggressively too. Experts point out that Western strategists are reflecting on ways to drive a wedge between Moscow and Beijing to prevent the emergence of a strong global counterweight to the US-led West.
But it is India, with its consistent and commendable outreach to Iran including continuing to buy oil from Tehran despite Washington’s pressure and exploring investments in that country’s oil and gas sector to counter China’s massive planned spends, added to its traditionally close relationship with Russia, which is the key. If it plays its cards right, India may yet hold the balance of power.