India is participating in the multi-national military exercise Vostok-2022 together with China, held in Russia. It is stated that India, whose role in the exercises is expected to be limited at the level of the strategic command and military personnel, will also stay away from the maritime division in order not to harm Japan’s interests. In recent years, India has regularly participated in exercises by the United States and its allies. However, last year, India participated in Russia’s Zapad-2021 exercises together with China. This is interpreted as an effort that India try to make its foreign policy to more dimensional.
From this point of view, Ankara Center for Crisis and Policy Studies (ANKASAM) presents the views it received from Dr. Eva Seiwert, Research Associate at the Institute of Political Science of the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, in order to evaluate Russia’s Vostok-2022 exercises as well as the role of China and India in the drills.
- Do you think the military cooperation between China and Russia will increase further after Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan?
China’s participation in the upcoming Vostok-2022 exercise should be understood primarily as a continuation of its engagement with the Russian military as part of the Vostok-2018 exercise four years ago, than directly related to Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. The Chinese side seems to want to emphasize this point by reiterating that its participation is “unrelated to the current international and regional situation”, be that conflicts with the US or Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine. Rather, the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) participation is said to happen “in accordance with the annual China-Russia military cooperation plan”.
Therefore, I view Beijing and Moscow’s strengthening of military ties as relatively unrelated to Pelosi’s visit. However, it seems likely that growing tensions between China and Russia on the one side and the US and its partners on the other will, if anything, further accelerate the already visible trend of increasing cooperation between the two (including regular bilateral and multilateral military drills).
- Could you evaluate the participation of India and China in “Vostok-2022” exercises within the scope of Central Asia and Indo-Pacific geopolitics?
The relationship between India and China in these regions is highly complex. While in Central Asia, the two states share membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and therein cooperate on security issues (including joint military drills), in the Indo-Pacific, India is part of several US-led formats, which China believes to be aimed at countering its growing influence. On top of this, their border dispute remains a thorny issue for both countries.
I don’t expect any breakthroughs for their bilateral relationship to come from their joint participation in Vostok-22, also considering it is not the first time Chinese and Indian armies attend a Russian military exercise side by side. Their participation is owed primarily to their respective close bilateral relations with the host country Russia, and so their joint participation should not be overrated.
- While the tension between India and China on the border is still alive, how will these two countries come together? Can we interpret the coming exercise as “an effort to create a multipolar world”? Do you agree with this idea?
As mentioned earlier, the India-China relationship is extremely complex and the two governments have gained a wealth of experience in navigating their conflicts when trying to cooperate on shared interests. Therefore, I don’t think their participation in the exercise will be a particularly big challenge for the two countries.
The second part of the question asks more about Moscow’s motivations than China or India’s. The exercise may be presented as part of the overarching effort to create a “multipolar world”; however, I do not see how exactly the world will be made more ‘multipolar’ with these drills – merely because the US and other NATO members are not part of them?
I do recognize a general ambition to create some sort of new ‘world order’ that China and Russia – and to an extent also India (and other governments) – share. And it is true that their joint participation in the upcoming exercises, along with many other frameworks in which they interact, can help consolidate a shared understanding on what such a changed world should look like. What I struggle with is the term ‘multipolar’ – what exactly will such a world look like, how many poles will there be, and what roles will countries that are not ‘poles’ themselves play as well as what rights will they have? As long as these questions are not clear, the concept of a ‘multipolar world’ will remain not much more than a nice-sounding rhetorical concept that can be conveniently contrasted with the US-led ‘unipolar world’ we’ve known since the end of the Cold War.
- What does Russia aim at by getting China and India together in the same exercises? Do you think Russia is trying to show its muscles against the US after Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan?
This question is related to the last one. Given Russia’s deteriorating relations with the US and Europe – more so because of its war of aggression against Ukraine than because of Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan – it makes sense that Russia tries to rally around its partners as much and as publicly as possible to prove to the world that it is not isolated. A military exercise like Vostok-2022 – but also other formats such as the upcoming SCO heads of state summit on 15-16 September in Samarkand – are welcome events to make this point.
Of course, India and China being the two most populous countries in the world, and two nuclear powers for that matter, makes their partnership and cooperation with Russia more weighty than, say, Tajikistan or Belarus’ support of Moscow. However, I don’t think the RIC (Russia – India – China) countries’ cooperation in the exercise has much to do with Pelosi’s visit, but rather is a continuation of what we have seen in the last few years already.
Dr. Eva Seiwert
Dr. Eva Seiwert is a Research Associate at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg and Associate Research Fellow at the OSCE Academy in Bishkek. She is also Associate Editor at 9DASHLINE. Eva’s research focuses on China’s international relations, with a particular interest in China-Central Asia and China-Russia relations. With a background in Chinese Studies (B.A.) and East Asian Relations (M.Sc.), she received her PhD in International Relations from Freie Universität Berlin with a thesis titled “The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and China’s strategy of shaping international norms.” Her comments and analyzes on international relations have appeared on platforms such as The Diplomat, Global Policy, South China Morning Post and Bertelsmann Stiftung’s BTI Blog.