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China and India are not participating in the sanctions imposed by the Western world on Russia for the invasion of Ukraine. This has effectively made the sanctions much less effective, compared to what they could have been.

Of course these countries have massive profits from being the only ones trading with Russia, as they can procure cheap energy, and also have a monopoly on selling products such as cars, phones, computers, etc to Russia.

So the real-politic answer to why they are not participating to the sanctions seems fairly obvious.

But what is the political justification for this? Are they admitting that it is just about the money, or is there a politically correct reason for helping Russia to invade into Ukraine?

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8 Answers 8

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First, please understand that China and India are sovereign nations, not in the EU, not in NATO. They do not need to take a position. Just because you say they do does not make it so. *

Having said that, China's position is the clearest stated, so I'll quote them from April:

China

During a daily press conference, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said, "As the culprit and the leading instigator of the Ukraine crisis, the US has led NATO in pursuing five rounds of eastward expansions in the next two decades or so since 1999."

"NATO's membership has increased from 16 to 30 countries and the organization moved over 1000 kilometers eastward to somewhere near Russia's borders, pushing the latter to the wall," Zhao added.

Keep in mind that China is challenging the West globally. Why the heck should they back sanctions? Their hope is probably to get better access to Russian weapons technology and raw materials from an enfeebled Russia afterwards, not burning bridges.

Public sentiment seems highly pro-Russia there as well. But China is also careful not to break Western sanctions and land itself in trouble. They're just not going out of their way to add any pressure themselves.

China also likes to say that Western powers (the US foremost) are too bossy for the rest of world, so pushing back against a Western set of sanctions makes sense.

(Not that China is above using sanctions of its own when it suits them.)

India?

(From memory listening to a podcast):

  • Sentimental: they had friendly relations with USSR/Russia for a long time and not always good vibes with West.

  • Practical: they buy a lot of Russian weapons, which they need to counterbalance China. On the other hand, China is an even bigger Russian arms buyer, raising problems of conflicts of interest. And... who fancies Russian weapons much these days, after 6 months of crashing live demos?

  • Cheap oil. Probably very useful in a time of higher commodity and food prices.

Also, the US needs India to counterbalance China regionally and is trying to draw it into an alliance with Australia. That means the opportunity to "punish" India for not "following orders" is rather low. This is true in general for other "laggards" - the West needs to persuade them to isolate Russia, not try to bully them into doing so, which would likely backfire.

* In fact the West could take the opportunity to examine why the backing by Latin American and African nations has been lukewarm at most: we're not half as popular as we think we are. Some of that may be unfair, some of it may be for good reasons, all of it merits examining. But perhaps a good enough explanation is that it is an European/NATO theater war, not all that much of their business, except as it disrupts their economies.

Last, and I certainly don't mean it as my apology for Russia's behavior, from the PoV of many non-West-aligned countries and their citizens, the differences between Russia 2022 in Ukraine, USA 2003 in Iraq or NATO 2011 in Libya can be seen as rather subtle. Which brings me back to the West's need for more humility and empathy if it wants UN-level support in the future.

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    who fancies Russian weapons much these days, after 6 months of crashing live demos Are there really any significant problems with Russian weapons? Logistics and army performance - yes, these were widely publicized. Also, most Russian failures occurred in the first month, but since then they have changed gears, and the situation on the ground does not seem very conclusive. Aug 31 at 9:28
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    US was claiming 50-60% dud rates on missiles. Russia's air force has nowhere near the SAM-suppression capability of NATO forces and still can't operate freely over near area. T-72s are world class turret throwers. Communications needs to use in-the-clear or mobile networks. The Moskva, an air-defense cruiser, got sunk by 2 low speed Exocet-class missiles (or maybe it caught fire?). Need I go on? Aug 31 at 9:30
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    No offense taken. But the proof is in the pudding: 2nd army in the world, 6 months, limited gains, high costs, on their doorstep. Let's add, but that's not an export consideration, that their organization around junior officers + troops, minus NCOs, is showing up to be a goof of epic proportions. Aug 31 at 9:40
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    I would say, at the very least, the difference between USA 2003 Iraq and Russia 2022 Ukraine is very very subtle and not just from the point of view of non westerners. I mean the US was much better prepared an crushed Iraq quicker, but other than that? You also don't talk about Afghanistan or a number of others.
    – DRF
    Sep 1 at 11:44
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    China would start a bad precedent if they treated Russia difference when they eventually do the same thing to Taiwan.
    – blankip
    Sep 1 at 14:51
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India was the progenitor of the Non-Aligned Movement during the cold war, they have a history of intentionally distancing themselves from this exact sort of situation. There has not been any concerted Western effort to punish India for this in the current conflict, so they lose nothing by maintaining neutrality and they get some cheap Russian exports to boot.

China is currently competing with the US and in a broader sense the West for global hegemony, it would be counterproductive for them to support the West in this engagement. Additionally, much like Russia claims Ukraine as its own and is willing to fight a war for its claim, China claims Taiwan as its own and is ostensibly willing to fight a war for it as well. If Russia is successful in conquering Ukraine, China may feel emboldened to conquer Taiwan.

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  • "If Russia is successful in conquering Ukraine, China may feel emboldened to conquer Taiwan." - in a way, true, but isn't there a risky flip side to this? From China's PoV, it would not "conquer" Taiwan, as the CCP has (to my knowledge) never moved away an inch from the claim that Taiwan is a part of PRC. In contrast, as much as Mr Putin now claims Ukraine has never been a real country or similar, there have indeed been times when Russia did treat Ukraine as a foreign country. (Cf. e.g. political world maps published in PRC vs. Russia.) As such, if "Russia is successful in conquering ... Sep 1 at 23:16
  • ... Ukraine", wouldn't the CCP risk ending up in the hypocrisy corner for being ok with Russia taking parts or the whole of Ukraine by force - even suggesting Western powers to stop supporting Ukraine in order to quickly end the fighting -, but complaining about (as CCP loves to claim) foreign powers trying to split off parts of PRC? Sep 1 at 23:18
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    @Gramatik I don't think you can use what you see on a highly censored internet full of bot accounts and paid shills as evidence of "public sentiment in China support the invasion" There are plenty of pro-Ukraine comments too--they just got deleted and drowned by bots and shills. Chinese are not stupid, they know the history and they know what is right. 70 years ago Japan use the same excuse to invade China.
    – Faito Dayo
    Sep 3 at 5:56
  • @FaitoDayo I never said there was "public sentiment in China to support the invasion", I do not conflate the goals of Xi/CCP and the people of China
    – Gramatik
    Sep 6 at 14:01
  • @Gramatik sorry, reply to wrong answer
    – Faito Dayo
    Sep 7 at 5:20
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Although the practical stance of India and China is rather similar, declaratively (which is what this Q is about), India has been less willing to endorse the Russian claims, at least in official communiques.

India urged “respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states,” called “for the immediate cessation of violence and hostilities,” regretted “that the path of diplomacy was given up” and urged the concerned states to “return to it,” and reiterated that “dialogue is the only answer to settling differences and disputes, however daunting that may appear at this moment.” India’s Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar reinforced these themes during his intervention in the parliamentary debate on Ukraine when, in a coded critique of Russian actions, he reiterated India’s position “that the global order is anchored on international law, [the] UN Charter and respect for [the] territorial integrity and sovereignty of states.”

But at the same time, their UN votes have been mostly abstentions

[India] has abstained from successive votes in the UN Security Council, General Assembly, and Human Rights Council that condemned Russian aggression in Ukraine and thus far has refused to openly call out Russia as the instigator of the crisis.

Generally speaking, the defense of India's position in the media has been left to unofficial sources, like former officials and so forth. E.g.

India not only depends on Russian weaponry, but it also relies hugely on Moscow for military upgrades and modernization as it moves toward self-reliance in its defense sector, said Lt. Gen. D.S. Hooda, a former Indian military commander.

“Russia is the only country that leased a nuclear submarine to India. Will any other country lease India a nuclear submarine?” Hooda asked.

Sushant Singh, a senior fellow at the Center for Policy Research, said: “India’s navy has one aircraft carrier. It’s Russian. India’s bulk of fighter jets and about 90% of its battle tanks are Russian.” [...]

Nath Misra, a retired diplomat and distinguished fellow in the Jindal School of International Affairs, said the U.S. hasn’t shown any willingness to provide technology transfers to India.

“I would like to ask our American friends: What kinds of defense technology have you given us? What the U.S. is offering is the F-16 fighter aircraft rebranded as the F-21. The F-16 is obsolete from the Indian point of view. We went for the Mig-21 in the 1960s because the F-104 was denied to India. We are seeing the same kind of thing,″ he said.

“Under the AUKUS agreement, the U.S. is willing to share the nuclear propulsion technology for submarines with Australia but is not willing to share it with India,” he added, referring to the trilateral security pact between the U.S., U.K. and Australia.

S.C.S. Bangara, a retired navy admiral, brought up the US betrayal that India felt in the '71 war, etc. They bring that up rather than the support they got in '62, but I suppose it's the more recent stuff that counts the most for them. Other sources [see 1st link] say that India takes US support against China for granted, given US' own interest, so they only care about not losing too much Russian support in this affair.

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Important reason to join sanctions is the feeling about the own safety. EU obviously does not feel safe with the war going on so close to the border, neither they are sure if Russia would leave them in peace if allowed to take and keep the Ukraine. Severity of sanctions clearly correlates with the proximity to the Russian border and the Soviet past, with Baltic states going first.

Both India and China are probably large enough to feel safe. They can ignore this threat that is questionable for them and think how to benefit from the crisis instead.

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China, India and Russia are important members of such organisations like BRICS and SCO. Sanctions against one of the members of that organisation by an other ones would harm that organisations or posibly even destroy them.

China and India are among the countries seeing the use of sanctions for reaching political goals criticaly. Specially China facing itself some western sanctian shouldn´t be expected to suport the West in imposing sanctions on other countries.

From chinese point of view it doesn´t make much sence to suport the West fighting Russia as China could be the next having conflict with the West. A posible place for such conflict could be Taiwan. But there are also some other disagreements between China and the West about Hogkong and other chinese provinces.

Also it should be kept in mind that both China and India have experinced the previous 2 centuries of western colonisation, so when the West telling that countries what they have to do it wakes not the best historical memories.

Also the fact that Zelensky openly suported Taiwan hasn´t made China a friend of Ukraine.

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    The thing is that China is opposed to things it calls sanctions. But it's quite happy to do the same either officially or unofficially. So it's like with "people's democratic republics" from the communist bloc, where "democratic" means one-party rule, which mostly means one-man rule, i.e. an Orwellian redefinition. As for India, it does the same... to China!
    – Fizz
    Sep 1 at 7:16
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    As for India, it does the same... to China! Like so.
    – Fizz
    Sep 1 at 7:19
  • Hongkong is not a province, and neither are Tibet or Xinjiang (at least technically).
    – Jan
    Sep 7 at 8:41
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I can't comment on the Indian point of view, but my understanding is that the People's Republic of China is opposed to sanctions in general, not just in relation to the conflict in the Ukraine. This NY Times article quotes a Chinese official as stating

The position of the Chinese government is that we believe that sanctions have never been a fundamental and effective way to solve problems, and China always opposes any illegal unilateral sanctions

I have read (but do not recall where) that China argues that broad sanctions are a tool which primarily makes a population suffer, rather than achieving a beneficial outcome for anybody. I'm sure there is a rich literature exploring in what context and to what extent sanctions are effective.

Personally, I find arguments against sanctions to be quite convincing, and I suspect that a lot of human suffering has been caused to the citizens of eg Iran for little if any positive impact in return, and I find the broad and I would say unquestioning enthusiasm for sanctions in my country's (Australia's) public discourse disappointing

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    The thing is that China is opposed to things it calls sanctions. But it's quite happy to do the same either officially or unofficially. So it's like with "people's democratic republics" from the communist bloc, where "democratic" means one-party rule, which mostly means one-man rule, i.e. an Orwellian redefinition.
    – Fizz
    Sep 1 at 7:14
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    That's true, but I still feel that China's official opposition to sanctions, even if it uses 'economic coercion' which is really sanctions, still goes some way to explaining why one wouldn't expect it to participate in the very public sanctions against Russia, as the question asked Sep 1 at 7:23
  • Well, in the answer you said you found China's argument convincing.
    – Fizz
    Sep 1 at 7:25
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    I find the arguments against sanctions to be convincing, made by China or not. Whether you can apply those arguments against Chinese unilateral sanctions is a separate questions Sep 1 at 7:30
  • @Fizz Your second link says "There is however insufficient evidence to prove that these [...] are government-mandated sanctions and not simply the choice of individual actors". But you are right. If I were China, I would also deploy some Terminal Area Defense as a response, maybe even shot some of theirs down. Screw sanctions.
    – dosvarog
    Sep 1 at 9:45
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The simplest reason is that what you call the "Free World" is simply the American Empire to everybody else who isn't dependent on it. And regardless of whether you like it or don't like it, everyone has seen the effect of American policies on countries dependent on it like Afghanistan in the 2000s and Germany now, and states within it like California and New York. They (India and China), and many other countries, do not wish to live in a unipolar world where everyone is subjugated to the American Empire, therefore it is in their interest to remain neutral, because regardless of what happens, the war is seen as a step towards a multipolar world where India and China don't have to bend for US policy, since Ukraine is seen as simply a vassal state for America because of the colour revolution engineered by the US government in Ukraine in the 2000s.

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    @Alexei This reply DOES provide an answer to the question, explaining to the topic starter that their question does not makes sense in proper philosophical/scientific discourse and implies a lot of assumptions that most of the people outside of western worldview do not share and therefore do not indulge western people in their made up ethics favoring only well those same western people. Pointing out the equivocation in the question IS the answer to the question (and the only reasonable reaction to such question).
    – Denis
    Sep 1 at 7:13
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    The constituents of the "American Empire" don't think they're part of an empire. It's almost like they're independent nations joining multinational organizations of their free will. Note the Iraq War, and the lack of support from most of this supposed "American Empire". I'm pretty sure that China knows the difference between Tibet and the Ukraine, and India the difference between Jammu and Kashmir and Ukraine.
    – prosfilaes
    Sep 1 at 18:27
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    @prosfilaes "Almost like" but not. The USA has an empire, they just hate the word empire. The countries 'freely' choose to give super favorable trading terms to the country with a military budget larger than the next however many countries' budgets combined, for reasons entirely mysterious 😆 Sep 1 at 22:50
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    "everyone has seen the effect of American policies on countries dependent on it like Afghanistan in the 2000s and Germany now" - would you mind to elaborate what that effect is supposed to be in "Germany now", and how it compares to "Afghanistan in the 2000s"? Sep 1 at 23:29
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    @ron nor So your point is that "everyone" and "many countries" have seen something one cannot really explain (except that it is somehow related to some building project the Americans did not like and which was continued anyway)? Such things have happened before, but if this is such a case you might want to point out in your post that it is not entirely clear what everyone has seen. Otherwise it will be hard for your readers to understand your point.
    – Jan
    Sep 2 at 10:30
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Why would they need justification one way or the other? It isn't their fight.

The war is between Russia and Ukraine. China, India, and countless other countries simply don't have a dog in the fight. Why would they potentially harm their own economies over a war they have no part in and has no direct bearing on them.

You're assuming everyone on the planet thinks Russia did something wrong. Not everyone sees it that way. Some countries will support Ukraine. Others will support Russia. The rest will simply stay out of it.

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  • Yes from several answers on this question it seems that many people don't think that invading another country with no provocation is wrong. This makes me sad about the world we live in.
    – user000001
    Sep 7 at 8:59
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    "Provocation" is subjective. I'm sure if you ask Russia, they would say they were provoked. Whether anyone else agrees is another story. The point is, Russia felt it had to act in order to protect it's interests. Like it or not, that's a right that all sovereign nations have. Keep in mind, countries have been invading each other for all of history for any number of reasons... provocation is only one of them.
    – mikem
    Sep 7 at 9:23

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