In managing our ties with Russia we will face the challenge of its deeper strategic understandings with China. Russia has made common cause with China to resist western hegemony.

Why China has wilfully wrecked the basis of a functional relationship with India built painstakingly over the years despite continual Chinese provocations is not clear. Whether it is to unilaterally alter the Line of Actual Control by moving up to the 1959 claim line, impart high altitude combat experience to its armed forces, test out battle strategies for future operations and fill the gaps discovered, or, expecting an easy success, it is an operation that has gone wrong because of the Galwan valley incident and the Chinese are now in a position from where they can neither move forward nor retreat, is a matter of speculation. That the Chinese have given us five different explanations suggests that those talking to us are not very clear themselves about Xi Jinping’s thinking.

There can be no status quo ante in the overall India-China relationship even if the current standoff in Ladakh is resolved peacefully. China’s regional and international ambitions require a deferential and submissive India. Our biggest foreign policy challenge in 2021 and beyond will be one of handling China, with virtually all our foreign policy choices influenced by the China factor, directly or indirectly.

The logic of drawing closer to the US will be driven not only by China’s maritime policies in the Indo-Pacific but its larger strategic ambition of being at the centre of international relations in 2049, which cloaks its G-2 goal. The more powerful China becomes the greater the need to counter its expansionism by developing stronger strategic understandings with the US. This will include more defence cooperation, resolution of trade differences, creating resilient global supply chains, promoting Blue Dot Networks in connectivity, partnerships to develop ‘Clean Networks’ in the digital space to counter China’s advances in 5G technology. Data related issues also have a Chinese dimension as China is sucking in data from the rest of the world to make advances in Artificial Intelligence.

In managing our ties with Russia we will face the challenge of its deeper strategic understandings with China. Russia has made common cause with China to resist western hegemony. The US perseveres in the geopolitical absurdity of uniting rather than dividing two powerful adversaries when its own power has relatively declined to thwart US policies. This is already evident in Russian foreign minister Lavrov’s renewed criticism of the Indo-Pacific concept and the Quad as a US ploy to push India into playing anti-Chinese games, and this when China is militarily threatening India in Ladakh. This has compelled our own external affairs minister to respond with statements endorsing both constructs. Our participation in the Russia-India-China dialogue, BRICS and SCO has no longer the same geopolitical salience as before. From our point of view, more than US unilateralism, it is China’s unilateralism and disregard for international law that is the problem.

India’s policies towards its neighbours have to now cope with the increasing Chinese presence and influence around us. India cannot lose strategic ground in its immediate neighbourhood. We have been forced into competition with China. Our Act East policy will increasingly need to deal with China’s dominant position in this region. This includes our relations with ASEAN. Building relations with Vietnam, Indonesia and Myanmar will have China as a catalysing factor. Naval exercises with partners in the Indian Ocean, our logistics agreements in the region, potentially giving a military dimension to Quad, balancing China in Iran and Afghanistan, forging stronger ties with the East African coast countries, maritime security in the Indian Ocean, positioning ourselves on climate issues, all will be under China’s shadow.