This transcript appears in the July 2, 2021 issue of Executive Intelligence Review.
Engaging Russia and China as Part of a New World Order—What Can India Bring to the Table?
Atul Aneja is the Editor of IndiaNarrative.com. This is an edited transcript of remarks he delivered to the first panel, “Whom the Gods Would Destroy: War with Russia and China Is Worse than MAD!” of the June 26-27, 2021 Schiller Institute conference, “For the Common Good of All People, Not Rules Benefiting the Few!” Subheads have been added.
At the outset, I wish to thank the Schiller Institute for inviting me to this exceptionally important conference. Over the next 10 minutes or so, I will be speaking on, “Engaging Russia and China as Part of a New World Order—What Can India Bring to the Table?” We are living in difficult, turbulent, but nevertheless, exciting times. The COVID-19 pandemic is not yet over, but like other pandemics of the past, this one, too, will pass. What would the post-COVID world be like, and what role would countries such as India, China and Russia play in defining a new world order? More precisely, what specific role can India play with its engagement with Russia and China for defining a new world order?
A New Multipolar World of Civilizational States
Ladies and gentlemen, let me begin by saying that even prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the broad outlines of a new world order were quite tangibly visible before our eyes. With due apologies to Francis Fukuyama and his ilk, the U.S.-dominated unipolar world, starting arguably with the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, has already ended, visible with a sharp decline in U.S. economic and military, and even soft power. Along with this is a relative rise of the emerged and the emerging economies such as China, India, Russia, Brazil and South Africa.
Indeed, the unipolar world has been giving way to a multipolar world with the center of gravity of both hard and soft power getting quickly diffused beyond the West, though the European Union and the United States will continue to play a unique and influential role in a multipolar world.
But what is also equally true is that the West will be unable to dominate the globe, as had perhaps been done since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Along with the rise of the multipolar world is also the phenomenon of the rise of civilizational states, epitomized by China, Russia, India and Iran, among others.
Reconnecting at the Cultural and Spiritual Level
What specific role can, and should India play in the rapidly evolving multipolar world, where China and Russia are the major poles?
First and foremost, India itself, a civilizational state, needs to bond more deeply with both China and Russia. India and China, for instance, need to reconnect at the fundamental cultural and spiritual level. After all, Buddhism spread from India to China, via the ancient Silk Road, physically connecting the west coast of India with the far-flung stupas [shrines] in China’s Gansu province, via the Xinjiang region. Traders, monks, and political figures traveled the ancient Silk Road, generating a unique cultural osmosis, as we learn from the magnificent grottoes inside the Dunhuang caves, similar to Ajanta art. And this was also visible across China. Indian universities such as Nalanda invited Chinese scholars and monks to deepen their temporal and spiritual knowledge about Buddhism. Having traveled across several parts of India, Xuanzang became the mascot of inter-permeability of Indian and Chinese cultures.
Kumarajiva, the Indian monk, played a seminal role in translating Buddhist texts written in Sanskrit into Mandarin, while Marananta, the Indian monk, not only traveled into China, but played a seminal role in seeding Buddhism in South Korea and finally, Japan.
Conscious of their common spiritual heritage, both Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and Chinese President Xi Jinping embarked on this journey of adding a civilizational layer to the contemporary engagements in the digital era. This happened through their meetings in Xi’an in 2015, in Wuhan in 2018, and most recently in Chennai. There has been, though, a temporary interruption in the relationship of the two countries, over a border dispute, which is not disappearing any time soon, I think. But sooner or later, the powerful historical currents of multipolarity and the thirst for a post-Western civilization revival are likely to bring the two neighbors back on the path of cultural, economic, and political cooperation.
With Russia, India’s connection is also deep. Leo Tolstoy’s deep impression on Gandhi had deeply influenced the path of nonviolence, which became the template of India’s freedom struggle against British colonial rule. Indian business communities played their part in bringing the two nations together, as we learned from the presence of sarais or rest houses [inns] built by the Marwaris, an Indian business community on the shores of the Caspian Sea, in Astrakhan in Russia. During the Cold War, India and the Soviet Union had forged special ties, and this has translated itself in the post-Cold War era as well.
Hooking on to the Eurasian Connectivity Network
On the back of its historical experience, India can help both China and Russia, by making Eurasia, rather than the so-called Indo-Pacific region, as the primary focus of its international engagement. That means participating in new routes, that are in the process of reconnecting Eurasia in the backdrop of the revival of the ancient Silk Road, or the Eurasian Land-Bridge, as conceptualized by Mrs. Helga Zepp-LaRouche and her late husband, Lyndon LaRouche.
How can India hook on to the Eurasian connectivity network?
There are at least three spurs that can connect India with Eurasia. First, India can connect with China, via Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar or the BCIM corridor. This route can connect Kolkata in India with Kunming in China along a 2,500 km corridor that passes through Bangladesh and Myanmar before ending in China. With Russia and Central Asia, India can sail its way from Mumbai port to the Iranian port of Chabahar on the Indian Ocean. From there, the Chabahar route goes northwards to Afghanistan en route to Uzbekistan, Central Asia, and Russia. India, Iran, and Russia are also partnering in the International North-South Transport Corridor, or the INSTC. Once again, this land-cum-sea route starts from Mumbai in India and threads its way through Bandar Abbas in Iran, a land corridor that takes a route forward from Bandar Anzali on the Iranian Caspian Sea coast to Astrakhan on the Russian side of the Caspian. Land routes then connect the INSTC to the Russian hinterland with branch lines heading into Azerbaijan and Armenia in Caucasia.
Earlier this year, India had proposed the integration of the Chabahar route and INSTC route, to form a giant Pan-Eurasia integrated network, with one spur also leading to the resource-rich Russian Far East. India is also negotiating with Russia to become a part of the Eurasian Economic Union or the EAEU.
BRICS: Bonding in Other Geographies
Apart from accelerating transport and other forms of linkages, India can step up the process of political-economic integration with both China and Russia under the multilateral framework of the BRICS. With BRICS significantly institutionalized, with the formation of the Shanghai-headquartered BRICS bank or the New Development Bank, India can take the next step, by not only bonding with Russia and China, but also in other geographies, especially in Latin America and Africa, forging closer ties with two major regional heavyweights, Brazil in Latin America, and South Africa in Africa. In advancing on the BRICS path, it may be possible to foster a BRICS world order, where the emerging economies of the world also come onto the high table of global governance.
Within the BRICS format and outside, India can play a major role in developing a new global health care order which serves the entire humanity and not just the global elite.
India as a Global Vaccine Producing Hub
What can India do in the health care sector that would benefit the world?
Before the second wave of COVID-19 hit India, India, as the largest producer of vaccines on the planet, was well on its way to providing inexpensive jabs, especially to countries in the Global South. Under the slogan of “Vaccine Maitri” or “Vaccine Friendship,” India was on its way to exporting vaccines to developing countries, including in South Asia and Africa. Though interrupted, this process can and has to restart through major international investments flowing into India in the vaccine sector. Given its vast pool of human resources, India can become the global vaccination hub for producing large quantities of inexpensive vaccines to be supplied to the globe.
With a patchy health care infrastructure, India can also become the base for demonstrating the concept of holistic health, which also covers the educational and nutritional fields. With China as a partner, India and China can also work together in leveraging India’s all-weather health system, which is an ancient health system, and the Chinese medicine system. Yoga of India and tai chi of China can also come together to highlight the moral and spiritual dimensions of holistic health.
By deepening ties with China and Russia, India can play a major role in developing a mature, integrated, and cooperative multipolar world system covering the political, economic and cultural dimensions of a new world order.
I will stop here, and thank you very much for your attention.