Why India and China won’t sanction Russia


During his recent visit to India, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the historical ties between Russia and India are well known and unlikely to change. Nevertheless, Johnson also offered to increase UK defense cooperation with New Delhi. Such a move would not only help wean India off its reliance on Russian defense equipment, but, by extension, push New Delhi to consider complying with Western sanctions against Russia. This proposal is no different from the one proposed by the European Union (EU) to China in early April. At the 23rd EU-China Summit, European leaders called on China to support efforts to end violence in Ukraine. The subject of sanctions was raised quite directly with China, and the EU stressed that the sanctions were aimed at stopping Russian aggression despite the economic damage they were causing to European economies. Beijing has been asked to support the effort.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, the West has persuaded India and China to abandon their ‘neutrality’ in the conflict and support sanctions against Russia – a feat that has remained elusive. . While Western states’ policies and relations with India and China are not singular, nor is “the West” a monolith, both examples hint at general recognition around the world. that it is essential to obtain the support of the rising powers to impose sanctions on Russia. bite. To cajole India and China, Western leaders have taken a different approach: they are tough on Beijing and empathetic with New Delhi. The goal, however, is the same: to gain support for sanctions against Russia.

New Delhi and Beijing’s continued engagement with Moscow is not just standard practice, given their historical ties and beneficial relations with Russia, but is closely linked to Indian and Chinese disregard for unilateral sanctions, that is, sanctions imposed by a state independently. To respond to Indian and Chinese skepticism about sanctions, it is important to understand the reasons for New Delhi’s and Beijing’s unease with the sanctions. By examining the two rising powers’ own histories of unilateral sanctions, as well as their views, as expressed in national and international forums, their aversion to unilateral sanctions can be deciphered.

Enduring sanctions against oneself

Over the years, India and China have been sanctioned by Western states and institutions, although the reasons for imposing sanctions have remained different. For India, many of the sanctions came after its first nuclear test in 1974. Over the years, many Western states and export control groups have imposed sanctions on New Delhi, limiting the transfer of dual-use technologies to the developing state. China, on the other hand, was sanctioned or threatened with sanctions immediately after its formation in 1949 due to ideological disagreements. Later in the 1980s, 1990s, and throughout the 2000s, human rights abuses and nuclear trade with non-nuclear-weapon states prompted Westerners to impose sanctions on Chinese entities.

Whenever sanctions have been imposed on the two states, their leaders have remained defiant, often declaring that the sanctions would not change their policy. Speaking against the backdrop of sanctions imposed after the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping shared his state’s view. In 1990, Deng said: “Since last year, some countries have imposed sanctions on China. I think, first, that they have no right to do so; second, experience has proven that China has the ability to resist these sanctions…we are good at resisting sanctions. Almost a decade later, in 1998, when asked about the consequences of conducting a nuclear test, India’s Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said: “Sanctions rhetoric does not stand up to scrutiny. logic or fairness. Moreover, it seems hypocritical… I believe that our decision to lead the [nuclear] testing is in the supreme national interest – so we must face the consequences and overcome the challenge… Sanctions cannot and will not hurt us. India will not be intimidated by such threats and punitive measures. Other Chinese and Indian leaders have followed suit and spoken out against the sanctions and their threat over the years.

Although all major sanctions were eventually lifted, the lingering sanctions made New Delhi and Beijing reluctant to agree to unilateral sanctions. Moreover, their experience has also spawned a state discourse, in which sanctions are generally understood as instruments of coercion, and the sanctioned party as a victim. Overall, Indian and Chinese experiences as sanctioned countries have impacted their unilateral sanctions policies and shaped their understanding of the measures.

Speech against unilateral sanctions

India and China have not only deliberated on unilateral sanctions individually, but also together in multilateral forums. New Delhi and Beijing, as well as Moscow, have gradually established a narrative against unilateral sanctions at forums like the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and the annual RIC (Russia, India and South Africa) trilateral ministerial meetings. China). Especially from 2013, when unilateral sanctions began to be used extensively by Western states against the BRICS states themselves – mainly against states like Russia and secondarily against Indian and Chinese entities – the group felt the need to develop and explain its position on sanctions. Annual BRICS statements have repeatedly said, “We condemn unilateral military interventions, economic sanctions…” Over the past decade, sanctions against close allies or trading partners of the BRICS states such as Iran and China North Korea also led to censorship. The BRICS group has largely agreed that it is “not bound by unilateral sanctions”, stressing that such measures have no favorable effect and could lead to supply shortages.

In addition, New Delhi and Beijing have argued that unilateral sanctions are against international law. The BRICS joint statements stressed that the UN Security Council (UNSC) has “sole authority…to impose sanctions”. BRICS states have individually argued that they are “not obligated to follow the national laws and rules of any particular country”. Lately, the topic has gained prominence for both India and China, as Chinese entities have been sanctioned under the US Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, while India feared the same fate for its import of defense equipment from Russia. During the trilateral meetings of the RIC, the same discussion was put forward. Through joint statements, representatives of the three countries stressed that such measures reduce the “effectiveness and legitimacy” of the UNSC sanctions regime and are detrimental to international trade.

This rhetoric against unilateral sanctions has persisted and grown over the past decade. It seems very likely that discussions on sanctions and their impact on BRICS states would remain high on the agenda of upcoming BRICS summits and RIC meetings.

Sanctions, a brake on development

As the West garners support for sanctions against Russia, it must reflect. India and China are still dealing with the pandemic and their energy and economic needs have increased over the past two years. In this situation, the two will not agree to limit engagement with an old ally.

Historically, sanctions have served a variety of purposes, from supporting international norms and restricting the development of nuclear weapons by non-nuclear states to pushing states to the negotiating table. Sanctions against Russia are understood as a way to stop violence in Ukraine and help find a solution to the conflict.

These goals are not distasteful to New Delhi and Beijing, and the usefulness of sanctions is not lost on them, who themselves have sometimes used sanctions. However, it is also important to understand their perspective and make adaptable offers that are sensitive and accommodating to the interests of both rising powers. As the West weighs various policy options to make unilateral sanctions less hostile to India and China, it should bear in mind their current concerns and their track record of handling Western unilateralism.

Dr Rishika Chauhan is a MacArthur-funded postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Science and Security Studies (CSSS) at King’s College London. She is currently working on a book manuscript on India and China’s views on sanctions.

Picture: Reuters.

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