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Both India and China remain Russian allies, both countries account for similar amounts of Russia's crude exports, both have refused to condemn the Ukraine war, both countries joined Russia's Vostok military exercise in September 2022. Both India and China have been cracking down on democratic values e.g. freedom of press (albeit much harsher in China). Neither country has provided Russia with military aid.

However, there is widespread concern in the US and many countries in Europe (such as UK, Germany, Poland) over China's alliance with Russia. On the other hand, India's refusal to condemn Russia's invasion is seen more as an irritation that hasn't invited threat of sanctions, and many Western countries are in fact attempting to enhance cooperation with India, with countries like the US courting India as part of The Quad, UK recently releasing its collaborative roadmap to 2030, etc. What factors have resulted in this?

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    Generally, it might be helpful to cite the position of a couple western country rather than just The West. The issue being there are a lot of countries in the West, all of which have varying policy positions. Commented Apr 25, 2023 at 16:47
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    China isn't "cracking down on democratic values"; it's one of the most authoritarian countries in the world. India is an increasingly flawed democracy, tied with Poland in the 2022 EIU Democracy Index. Acting like the two are the same is an appalling false equivalence. Commented Apr 26, 2023 at 9:52
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    I believe according to news about the discord intelligence leak, there is a strong suggestion if not confirmation that China is helping Russia with their war effort. So China may not be wholly 'neutral'. Commented Apr 26, 2023 at 18:07
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    @MarkRogers The lack of public knowledge of this is due to what pisses China off: lack of face. If there's no good reason to rile them up, there's just no point. China is not shy about applying pressures through its state-owned enterprises or even its citizen base. There's just no real advantage right now to piss them off unnecessarily.
    – Nelson
    Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 1:12
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    @JackAidley: You're not wrong but the question is not as severe in its claim. It's only pointing out the negative trend that both nations show in relation to democratic values, and it still points out that China leads India in this matter. I agree with everything your comment said but I don't particularly think this question argued anything to the contrary nor does it rely on a falsehood that needs to be clarified using a more granular definition of China's approach to political authority.
    – Flater
    Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 6:30

7 Answers 7

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Realpolitik wrt China likely motivates Western forbearance towards India.

Long term, Russia is not, really, an existential problem to the West in general (of course, Russia's aggression is a catastrophe to Ukraine).

China is, at least potentially, an existential threat to the West. It doesn't have to be, but between Western mistrust and Xi/CCP policies it is increasingly looking like the West will be pursuing a strategy of containment.

India is being courted as a result, to use as a regional counterweight to China. With a population soon to outstrip China it could end up being a very useful one.

China, besides threats to Taiwan, also has a history of not getting along with its neighbors. Witness the rather pointless recent mountain incidents in which it tried to bully India. India has responded to tensions by, among other things, banning Chinese apps like Tik Tok.

This is why India is being courted by AUKUS. It is also why the US is trying to sidle up to India for weapon sales.

On the India side of things, the war is changing some calculations:

  • Russian weapons, even domestic, non-export/throttled versions, are generally underperforming in most areas.

  • Russia is unlikely to prioritize export orders and is also struggling with sourcing Western electronics for their gear.

  • China is a huge customer of Russia for weapon sales - though slightly less than India - and Russia is likely to be pushed more into China's arms, as a junior partner. Cut off from the West, Russia will be dependent on Chinese high tech, while India won't be critical in that sense. There is an inherent risk in buying weapons from a supplier who also supplies your main rival, especially if that rival has closer ties (France somewhat helped the UK mitigate Exocet risks during Falklands War for example).

So, from a USA/NATO point of view, not squandering the opportunity to balance India against China is paramount.

I would also add that the Ukraine War is so far, a NATO-Ukraine-Russia affair. India, or China, don't have to "do as they are told" by the West, this war is mostly not their geostrategic concern, aside from considerations of human rights (which have never bothered China overmuch). China for one has a vested interest in instead seeing the West weakened (which hasn't happened much so far).

Neither country has in fact helped Russia all that much (though China is definitely the more supportive) so being overly testy about their lack of enthusiasm in condemning Russia might be counterproductive and instead drive them to align more openly with Russia (and China's role is an evolving thing).

In fact the question's premise that there has been significant pushback on either seems inaccurate: Western pressure on China, so far, seems to be more in the line of "you will be in big trouble if you arm Russia", rather than in actual actions against China. Which is probably wise, as making China "lose face" risks strengthening the hand of Chinese nationalistic/anti-Western actors. While right now, the risk to China is very much more "un-coupling" from its big paying customers, at a time its economy is looking a bit unsteady. Once a line is crossed to "punish" China, its restraint may loosen quite a bit, so I guess the West will deploy considerable flexibility to ignore/downplay minor Chinese support for Russia.

Ask yourself, if we get our way and India does not buy any more Russia oil (as alluded to in the question): where does India get its oil from then? From the same constrained supply Europe and the West is dipping into, thus driving up prices.

India buying Russian oil at a steep discount is probably about the best the world energy system can deliver at this time.

Last, for all Modi's numerous flaws, India is still a democracy. Making them inherently a more trustworthy partner for the West.

See also Is India “Shaky” on Ukraine? It's Complicated - War on the Rocks (podcast)

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  • "this war is mostly not their geostrategic concern" One could argue that breaking Budapest Memorandum and an invasion of nuclear country on non-nuclear neighbor accompanied with threats of using nuclear weapons may change whole-world attitude to Non-Proliferation Treaty which is a concern to almost everybody. Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 11:42
  • 1. The term "bully" is not neutral. It implies China is in the wrong and it is beating down a powerless opponent. India is not a powerless opponent. And it is a border dispute because of a border drawn by british colonists without consulting China, the native people of India, and the other countries involved. Both China and India are fighting for the territory because they are just doing what is best for their people and national defence.
    – Faito Dayo
    Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 14:58
  • 2. The West has practiced a containment strategy since the founding of the CPC government in 1949, it is only recently, during the 80s and 90s, that the policies are relaxed for commercial interests.
    – Faito Dayo
    Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 15:00
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    @FaitoDayo The term "bully" is not neutral. It wasn't meant to be. it is a border dispute because of a border drawn by british colonists. With the nine-dash line, Tibet this seems too much of a pattern to blame entirely on the English. 20 years ago, many (non-US) Westerners were roughly positive about China and accepted a transition from US to Chinese hegemony as a natural, probable, not particularly worrisome, transition. Especially since Xi, that is not the case anymore. Racism then? Well, living in Vancouver, I have nothing against Chinese people. Just their CCP government. Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 16:32
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    @RogerVadim Hence my use of the word potentially. It's also hard to extrapolate what China will be up to in the future. If China wants to be top dog - in the same sense that the US often sees that as it's natural right - and if the US resists being displaced, we have a strong potential for Thucydides Trap. With a system that is industrially and economically much more competent than post WW2 USSR ever was. And a system w questionable values. Flip side, all Russia has left are its nukes, it's otherwise fairly negligible, at global scale Commented Apr 28, 2023 at 16:38
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China is not neutral in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, unlike India.

  • China recently questioned the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the countries that Russia has invaded, or threatened to invade (although later the remarks were rolled back). India has not.
  • China exports components used for arms manufacturing by Russia, for use against Ukraine. India has a much smaller role in this process.
  • China has a "no-limits friendship" friendship with Russia, with recent high-level mutual visits to reinforce this. India does not have this.
  • The recent visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Moscow was a huge symbolic gesture of support of Russia by China. It was widely reported. Such high-level visits are rare, particularly for the China (thanks to T.E.D. for bringing this to my attention). There was no corresponding gesture by India.

References:

Asked about his position on whether Crimea was part of Ukraine or not, [Lu Shaye, China’s ambassador to France] said in a French TV interview on Friday that historically it was part of Russia and had been offered to Ukraine by the former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.

The independent sovereign nations that emerged after the fall of the former Soviet Union “don’t have effective status under international law because there is not an international agreement confirming their status as sovereign nations”, he said.

Jon Henley and Jennifer Rankin: "China rows back after envoy denies sovereignty of former Soviet states". The Guardian, April 24, 2023: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/apr/24/china-rows-back-after-envoy-denies-sovereignty-of-former-soviet-states


Maria Shagina, an expert in economic sanctions at the International Institute of Strategic Studies, says China has not overtly supplied Russia with weapons but may be secretly selling it hi-tech products which could be used for military purposes. "There is evidence that China is the biggest exporter of semiconductors - often through shell companies in Hong Kong and the UAE - to Russia," she says. "Some Chinese companies are also supplying civilian drones, exploiting the grey space between military and civilian purposes." The US-based Center for Advanced Defense Studies says Chinese companies may be sending Russia electronic parts for anti-aircraft missile radars. The US has also imposed sanctions on a Chinese company which Washington says has provided satellite imagery in support of Russian mercenary forces fighting in Ukraine.

"Ukraine war: What support is China giving Russia?" BBC News, March 20, 2023: https://www.bbc.com/news/60571253


Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he doesn’t recognize Ukraine’s sovereignty. The Kremlin has also made clear that it sees the independence of the Baltic States and their role in NATO and the EU as threats to Russian security.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s government sees Moscow as a partner in opposing U.S. domination of global affairs.

Beijing declared it had a “no-limits friendship” with Moscow before Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine but has tried to appear neutral, calling for a cease-fire and peace talks. China has repeated Russian justifications for the invasion.

AP News, April 25, 2023: https://apnews.com/article/china-baltics-sovereignty-crimea-russia-98f05ace20d65d5f51b34c6652a81b00


Beijing has been Moscow’s most conspicuous and consequential backer in the war, pledging a “no limits” partnership with Russia shortly before the February 2022 invasion and helping keep Russia’s wartime economy afloat. Moscow’s growing reliance on China has been lucrative and useful for Beijing—and this economic dependence will likely continue and deepen. China’s rhetorical commitment to “multipolarity” in geopolitics has encouraged many countries in the global South to remain aloof from the war, unwilling to rally to Ukraine’s cause. After crowing about its reconciliation of Iran and Saudi Arabia, China is now promoting its “peace plan” for Ukraine, an entirely unrealistic proposal that caters almost exclusively to Russia’s interests. (Notably, the plan includes no requirement for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine.) ...

And yet for all it has gained as a putative bystander, China may not be willing to stay on the sidelines indefinitely. A defeated Russia is not in China’s interest. The Kremlin is Beijing’s most important partner in its opposition to the U.S.-led international order. Despite their many differences, China and Russia have joined forces to advance an alternative order with its own rules of war and peace, its own financial centers, and its own multilateral institutions. “Change is coming that hasn’t happened in 100 years,” Xi declared in April, at the end of a visit to Moscow. “And we are driving this change together.” A Russian humiliation in Ukraine would undermine this narrative, giving the United States greater latitude to focus its energies and resources on competing with China.

Liana Fix and Michael Kimmage "How China Could Save Putin’s War in Ukraine: The Logic—and Consequences—of Chinese Military Support for Russia". Foreign Affairs, April 26, 2023: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/china/how-china-could-save-putins-war-ukraine


Nick Schifrin:

They call each other dear old friends. And in their 40th meeting, Chinese President Xi Jinping labeled Russian President Vladimir Putin his partner in war and peace.

Xi Jinping, Chinese President (through translator):

China attaches great importance to China-Russia relations, because we are each other's biggest neighboring countries as well as strategic partners.

Nick Schifrin:

The two men share authoritarian recipes for power and a mutual desire to upend U.S. influence. China remains one of the biggest buyers of Russian energy.

Chinese companies are providing Russia with parts essential to maintain Russian weapons. The two countries conduct joint military exercises. And since the war in Ukraine began, China has neither endorsed, nor condemned it. Beijing's new peace plan calls for upholding Ukraine's sovereignty, but not for Russian troops to withdraw, an approach Putin endorsed today.

Nick Schifrin, Zeba Warsi and Dan Sagalyn "Chinese president visits Putin in Russia as the countries increase cooperation", PBS NewsHour, Mar 20, 2023: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/chinese-president-visits-putin-in-russia-as-the-countries-increase-cooperation


The host [of Russian State TV show host Vladimir Solovyov] slid right into his go-to tactics, asserting that anyone who believes Russia might be running low on conventional missiles should remember the “6,000 nuclear warheads” it also possesses. He asked: “Do you have air defense systems? Europeans, are you certain that all is well with you? You’ve been delivering everything to Ukraine... Germans, you are naked right now! N-a-k-e-d! You’ve given up your IRIS-T [high-tech air-defense missile systems].”

One by one, Solovyov threatened Poland, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and the Baltic nations, saying that “Yesterday it finally became clear what and how we should do.” He opined that NATO’s measured response gave away its hesitation to escalate, claiming that the alliance lives in fear of the great and mighty Russia. He called upon NATO to carefully weigh every word in its final resolution, so that it does not become a damning “verdict.”

Julia Davis "Putin’s Top TV Puppet Threatens 7 Countries With Air Strikes After Poland Blast" The Daily Beast , Nov. 16, 2022: https://www.thedailybeast.com/vladimir-putins-top-propagandist-vladimir-solovyov-threatens-europe-with-air-strikes-after-poland-blast


The video clips below (with English subtitles) show multiple examples of Vladimir Solovyev, the top propagandist on Russian state TV, openly calling on nuking and/or invading the European countries, especially the Baltic states, as well as the United States. Solovyev's much earlier calls to invade Ukraine were followed by the actual Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

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    Xi also talks openly about unifying China, which includes Hong Kong and Taiwan, with Hong Kong having lost almost all its democratic systems in the last 2 years but Taiwan is fully democratic, with its democratic index HIGHER (more democratic) than Canada, UK, and United States.
    – Nelson
    Commented Apr 26, 2023 at 7:26
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    Taiwan is a special case, as not even Taiwan recognises its independence. A PRC invasion of Taiwan/ROC would be terrible, but I don't know if it'd count as an illegal invasion under the UN Charta. Putin said or wrote Whoever does not miss the Soviet Union has no heart. Whoever wants it back has no brain.
    – gerrit
    Commented Apr 26, 2023 at 7:31
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    @gerrit official recognition isn't necessarily relevant; every sane person realizes that Taiwan is a country. I'm not sure if this is also true in Taiwan. However the important people aren't allow to say that because China will enact trade sanctions against them if they do. Commented Apr 26, 2023 at 14:31
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    @gerrit I know, it's a stretch to think so, but it occurs to me that, just maybe, the fact that China has indicated doing so would trigger war might have held back Taiwan from declaring independence, once past the KMT dreamlands of winning back the mainland. Also the recognition it might expect given the diplomatic hissy fit Beijing would engage in on anyone who dared to agree. Commented Apr 26, 2023 at 15:00
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    I'd consider editing this to make the Chinese President's visit to Moscow a bit more prominent. Its a huge symbolic gesture that was widely reported. Such high-level visits are very rare, particularly for the Chinese. So while it isn't an official position of support, one could argue its beyond that. Words on paper are one thing, but anyone, no matter what their level of political sophisticaion can get the message here.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Apr 26, 2023 at 17:57
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If nothing else, China is a major manufacturer and a major arms exporter. China has the capability to fill quickly significant gaps in Russia's armoury.

The following link lets you explore arms exports from both China and India.

https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-dominant-china-global-arms-trade

While in the latest year (2020) India's arms exports were nearly 1/3 of China's, most of those were going to Myanmar, a country under international sanctions and looking for basic weapons for suppressing internal dissent, rather than anything matching up to what Ukraine has access to.

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In addition to large GDP difference between China and India [and what they produce], there's also the fact that India isn't threatening to invade any country that the West cares about. Whereas China is threatening to invade Taiwan, sooner or later. Europeans may care less about this than the US, Japan, or Australia do, but China openly throwing their lot with Russia (in a war) could also be the prelude for a more aggressive showdown with the West, including an imminent invasion of Taiwan, which in turn could well turn into WW3 given the current US administration's open promise to defend Taiwan. (Let's not forget the joint Russia-China navy drills around Japan etc. Russia's Pacific fleet could well openly support China's in a military action, in a quid-pro-quo.)


In re

Neither country has provided Russia with military aid.

Indirectly China has provided some, like parts for Iranian drones (which go to Russia). The US recently sanctioned some Chinese (most Hong Kong) businesses for this, although they were probably just fronts. OTOH, given the amount of [civilian] DJI drones that Ukraine is using [some even ad-hoc militarized as grenade droppers etc.]... you can probably see/guess why the West isn't willing to do press China too hard on this, yet. (DJI also ships to Russia.)

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    FWIW, 50% of the world's semiconductor production industry is located in Taiwan. Anything that intereferes with production there (and of course an invasion would probably flat out shut it off for quite a while) would cause huge disruptions to the world economy, and yes that would definitely include Europe.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Apr 26, 2023 at 18:13
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    ...and it sure looks to all the world like China is trying to build up naval capacity specifically to invade Taiwan.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Apr 26, 2023 at 18:15
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Because the West wants India as a friend (in turn because the West perceives India as a potentially useful ally against China, which is their most serious geopolitical threat).

When you need them as a friend you ignore everything they say and do that don't mesh with your claimed values, because you know if you criticize them you will only estrange them.

See also Why is the media concerned about the sharia and the treatment of women in Afghanistan, but not in Saudi Arabia? which is very similar, but for Saudi Arabia.

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  • This answer may appear to be inadequate because of its relative brevity, but by focusing on the essential point it offers the most accurate diagnosis of the situation. Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 22:19
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The location of India near china is strategical and have some beneficial hope for West. For example, see joint US-Indo army trainings near china border.

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India is vulnerable to major territorial disputes with China on most of India's northern border, including recent deaths and China being better equipped and keen to advance it's line to conquer of Himachal Pradesh, south of Tibet.

If India sides with the West against Russia, it could risk a potential disaster in the Himalayas.

Western diplomats know that India could incur a major escalation from siding with the West, including loss of it's vulnerable 20km land bridge leading to Assam, Nagaland and other provinces.

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  • conquer of Himachal Pradesh - tehe status of Himachal Pradesh as an indian state is not disputed. What China claims as "south Tibet" is Arunachal Pradesh, a state in north-east india.
    – sfxedit
    Commented May 27, 2023 at 12:34
  • Yes, almost 100% of their border is disputed google.com/… Commented Jun 2, 2023 at 2:38
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    Ok, apparently I was wrong - parts of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand is also claimed by China - China at it again, renames 11 places in India's Arunachal Pradesh in Mandarin, Tibetan to assert territorial claim.
    – sfxedit
    Commented Jun 2, 2023 at 19:41
  • OMG that's crazy. I wish India had invaded Tibet and Nepal for some reason, because they were power vacuums, and were destined to go to the most aggressive of the region's superpowers... Commented Jun 3, 2023 at 8:28

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