Joe Biden and Vladimir Poutin to meet soon in Geneva
Both the United States and Russia want to bury the hatchet and restore a minimum of normalcy and the stakes are high as Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin meet in Geneva soon.
The newcomer to the block – the Quad or Quad grouping – comprising the United States, Japan, Australia and India has caught the world’s attention. Nonetheless, it’s equally important not to take your eyes off the gripping and enduring drama featuring the United States, China, Russia and India – the original Quad – which has been playing out for decades. The next crucial episode will be scripted by Presidents Biden and Putin in Geneva on June 16, which could have far-reaching implications.
But going back a bit, this is what a stunned time traveler to 1979 was heard mutter – “Surreal, this impoverished China wants to be the new hegemon and has become a global challenge!” What happened to the bonhomie and the promise between Beijing and Washington? When the devil did Moscow and Beijing become friends again, leaving only the hint of a possible alliance? And, didn’t Nixon send the USS Enterprise to the Bay of Bengal in 1971 to intimidate India? “
“Is non-aligned India a ‘major defense partner’ and a ‘comprehensive comprehensive strategic partner’ of the United States? And the Soviet empire covered with teflon withered? A cloud over Indo-Russian relations? I can’t handle it! With this, the “gentle” time traveler quickly retreated to the comfort of 1979. However, those of us who are still breathing despite the devastation caused by the so-called Wuhan virus do not have that luxury or this option.
The clock has made a full revolution. India and the United States had good relations in “the 1950s and 1960s, when both countries saw China as a threat” (Brookings Institute). The United States provided economic and military assistance, especially during the Sino-Indian War of 1962. And then Nixon arrived in January 1969. He had a visceral aversion to Indians. His meeting with Mrs. Gandhi in 1971 was catastrophic. Nixon’s comments thereafter “weren’t always printable” according to Henry Kissinger, his secretary of state.
However, India had already solidified its partnership with the Soviet Union by concluding a peace, friendship and cooperation treaty in 1971, which was very helpful to it against the muscle flexing of the United States. The possible disintegration of the Soviet Union was therefore a strategic setback for India, especially since its equation with the United States was lukewarm.
In the early 1970s, the United States had secretly reached out to the enemy of the enemy (USSR), China, with the promise to help stimulate its economic development. American businesses were euphoric at the prospect of a one-time bargain. “Trivial” issues such as the violation of human rights, the absence of freedoms, ideology or values have conveniently been put on the back burner.
Taiwan has been kicked out of the UN Security Council and has generally been sidelined. The tension between the USSR and China has worsened. Bilateral relations USSR-USA collapsed especially after the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 by the first.
For about four decades thereafter, China could do nothing wrong by launching a charm offensive on vital institutions of power and influence in the United States. The drumbeat for a robust engagement was conducted by America Inc. with Henry Kissinger & Co. playing the “Pied Piper”. It was the United States that paved the way for China’s accession to the WTO, despite being an opaque managed economy, albeit after making onerous commitments that Beijing did not never intended to honor.
Fortunately, superficial tensions with China had eased with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s 1988 visit to Beijing, although it continues its machinations. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, India was arguably the most vulnerable, both economically and geostrategically. In 1982, the Supreme Leader of China approved the transfer of nuclear weapons technology to Pakistan. A Pakistani nuclear device was tested in China on May 26, 1990. However, needing the support of Islamabad, the presidencies Ronald Reagan and George Bush have repeatedly confirmed that Pakistan did not go nuclear despite the fact that ‘they knew the opposite.
Rise of Chinese belligerence
The newly created Russian Federation, led by President Boris Yeltsin, has betrayed a tilt towards the West. India had slipped into Russian priorities. Eighty percent of our defense imports, including most weapon systems, came from Russia. We began to face shortages of spare parts and critical components. Our economy was also in the doldrums.
That’s when the winds started to turn, manifested in the simultaneous rise of two large Asian neighbors over the next 20 years (China was 15 years ahead). The size of the young and ambitious population and the well-endowed middle class have started to grow in India, attracting international attention. In a bold move, India ignored relentless pressure from the disarmament hawks by going nuclear in May 1998 and quickly outlining its “non-use first” doctrine. The overall reaction ranged from furious to critical to deaf understanding.
“Frankly, India is a very good friend of ours and we have a very good relationship,” President Yeltsin said, refusing to endorse sanctions against India. Russia has helped us fend off near-universal global pressure, especially in the UN Security Council. Strategic dialogues with the United States and France have brought temperatures down. In March 2000, President Bill Clinton came on a five-day visit to India to reestablish ties.
All four sides of the original quadrangle were again in motion. Chinese belligerence and ambition have increased in direct proportion to its economic strength. Gradually, Americans realized that instead of opening up, China was cracking down under President Xi Jinping but taking full advantage of open societies, through fair and crass means. It was left to mercurial President Donald Trump to finally denounce Beijing.
Sino-Indian relations have gradually deteriorated, reaching their climax with the Galwan clash last year. New Delhi and Washington, finding a broad convergence of interests and perspectives, began to forge a long-term partnership. Still, it’s hard not to notice that the Biden administration has never described China as an adversary, instead calling it a “most serious competitor” and keeping the door open to a possible breakthrough.
President Xi recently tasked the Communist Party with cultivating the image of a “lovable” nation. If Beijing senses a continued merger of positions on China among the United States, India, other partners and allies, it is possible, but not easy for it, to tactically extend an olive branch to the United States. United. It is debatable whether Washington would be able to resist.
High-stakes Biden-Putin meeting
Much depends on the next face-to-face meeting between Presidents Biden and Putin in Geneva. Both sides are keen to bury the hatchet and restore a minimum of normalcy, even if for disparate reasons.
Russia still remains a great Eurasian power and suffers from Western ostracism. Not that it is free from flaws, but the claim that Washington, in particular, may have overreacted also has merit. There is reason to review sanctions against Moscow triggered by its takeover of Crimea in 2014, as this decision cannot be viewed in isolation. The fact remains that the Western powers have sought to both engage and constrain Russia, bringing NATO to its doorstep. The accusation that Russia interfered in the US elections is not entirely unfounded. Yet Washington’s own track record is also not entirely correct. In this age-old power game, despite protests, every nation is to blame.
Both leaders are seasoned politicians and savvy practitioners of realpolitik. President Biden should know that Moscow’s accession to Beijing is not by choice. Standing on the sidelines, President Putin would be happy to correct his overdependence on Beijing. Even a limited thaw in Russian-American relations would be conducive to world peace and strengthen the political influence of all countries except China.
Looking at Putin “in the eye” in 2001, President Bush “found him … trustworthy … (and) was able to get a feel for his soul.” A decade later, Vice President Biden told Putin he “had no soul.” It will all depend on whether or not the US president manages to spot the soul of his counterpart this time around.
The author is a former envoy to South Korea and Canada and an official spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The opinions expressed are personal.