CLOSER INDIA-RUSSIA PARTNERSHIP POISED TO AFFECT WORLD ORDER
Russia’s incursion into Ukraine has created a sea change in international relations centering around oil and natural gas supplies, thrusting the world into a new era with the world’s balance of power restructured significantly.
The world has already witnessed China choosing a pro-Russia line as Russia’s war of invasion rages on. Now, we must also take special notice of what India, another big power in the Eurasian continent, is up to. While it has remained unflinchingly pro-Moscow, Beijing is careful not to make its stance favoring Russia too conspicuous. By marked contrast, New Delhi is enhancing its diplomatic relations with Moscow in an open manner apparent to everyone.
The “Indo-Pacific initiative,” first proposed by then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2016, has subsequently become a cornerstone of America’s Asia policy, with Australia, Japan, the US, and India pursuing strategic dialogue in the “QUAD” forum created to counter China. Any change in India’s posture toward this initiative can cast a dark shadow on QUAD’s future. Deeply committed to backing Moscow more after its invasion of Ukraine, India likely will help Russia in its effort to expand its presence in Asia by utilizing its abundant energy resources. India and China have clashed fiercely over their border since the early 1960s, but if Delhi and Beijing somehow manage to deepen their ties despite the border dispute, Japan would face an even more formidable threat—China, India, and Russia banding together to form a new sphere of influence.
On June 30, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a preposterous decree designed to seize full control of the Skhalin-2 gas and oil project in Russia’s Far East. (Mitsui $ Co., Ltd. and Mitsubishi Corporation hold 12.5% and 10% stakes respectively.) For Japan, this project off the coast of Sakhalin is the fruit of concerted government and private sector efforts. That is why Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on March 31 that “Japan has no plans to withdraw from the project.” Putin’s action gave Japan a slap in its face.
Russia sees its heavy-handed method as righteous. China, although fundamentally just as heavy-handed, prefers to wrest away others’ rights, interests, and territories in a much craftier way. And India, its population expected to surpass that of China (approximately 1.4 billion now) in the near future, was once presumed to be able to function as the world’s largest democracy. What will become of the world—and Japan—if the trio should form a sphere of influence of its own?
On June 29, NATO announced a new strategic concept for the next ten years at its heads of state and government conference in Madrid, Spain. Kishida became the first Japanese prime minister to attend the meeting when Japan was invited to attend along with Australia, New Zealand, and South Korea.
International Contracts and Treaties Are “Scraps of Paper” for Putin
The new document redefined Russia as “the most significant and direct threat” to the Allies’ security, demoting it from its former “strategic partner” status. Noting that the Indo-Pacific situation will “directly affect Europe and the Atlantic,” NATO leaders vowed to deepen dialogue and cooperation with Indo-Pacific nations, including Australia and Japan. Listing China as one of its strategic priorities for the first time, NATO emphasized that Beijing’s ambitions and its “coercive policies” challenge the Western bloc’s “interests, security and values.” NATO thus demonstrated to the international community its view that the world currently has two opposing forces locked in an inextricably with diametrically opposite values.
On July 1, two days after NATO announced the above strategic concept, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi conferred by phone with Putin, declaring that India will seek closer economic cooperation with Russia. It would be correct to view Modi’s action as India’s resolve to enhance its pro-Moscow line in building a new world order once the Russia war of invasion ends.
As is obvious from the example of Sakhalin-2, Russia will do anything for its own gains. For Putin, international contracts and treaties are nothing but mere scraps of paper. China is no different from Russia, as it only thinks in terms of its national interests. In the current conflict between the West and nations with different values, it will not be easy for Western democracies to persuade Russia to end its war of invasion. Imposing sanctions despite trying to force a reduction of the imports of crude oil and natural gas from Russia may not be enough.
Russia has so far been holding out against the West’s sanctions mainly because China and India have significantly increased their imports of its crude oil. In the case of India, which last year imported 33,000 barrels per day, its daily imports increased dramatically to 600,000 barrels in March (the Russian incursion began on February 24), and to 1,150,000 barrels in June.
Indian leaders, including Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar, basically argue for India’s position as follows: The West (i.e., the US) has imposed economic sanctions on nations like Iran and Venezuela, telling India to restrict crude oil imports from them. But oil prices have soared as the result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. How does the West want India to fill its domestic demand? And reduce rising oil prices and fight off inflation? In neighboring Sri Lanka, fuel shortages and inflation have led to violent demonstrations across the island nation. India desperately wants to avoid similar chaos. Russia is willing to sell India crude oil at a 30% discount on international prices. Isn’t it only natural for India to accept such an offer?
Such thinking suits Russia fine. With oil hovering at around US$100 per barrel, it will make enough profit even with a 30% discount.
In this column, I have introduced the geopolitical theories of the likes of American political scientist Nicholas John Spykman and Zbigniew Brzezinski, security advisor to President Jimmy Carter. In the 1940s, Spykman had this to say about the importance of Eurasia:
“…the Western Hemisphere center of power could be outweighed by a combined Eurasian power potential, which would possess two and one-half times the area and ten times the population of the Americas.”
Both Spykman and Brzezinski argued that the overriding issue for the US would be how to prevent Eurasia from being unified by a hostile alliance. I am convinced the same thing can be said of Japan. In the not-too-distant future, China is expected to run the show in Eurasia with Russia as its junior partner. What will happen if India joins the duo?
During the post-war era, India has eagerly sought to deepen its ties with the former Soviet Union (Russia since 1991), ostensibly announcing neutrality but effectively committed to the Communist Bloc. As a result, India has depended on Russia for roughly 60% of its military equipment. If it decides to further rely on Russian crude oil, it will not be able to isolate itself from Russia. The energy issue will be bound to enhance the cooperative framework comprising China, India, and Russia. Has our prime minister taken any notice of these imminent changes in the dynamics of the world order?
In blazing heat, Japan this summer is suffering from an acute power shortage. But that doesn’t excuse Japan from counting on Russia’s energy sources or a China-controlled energy supply system. Japan can be on its own in generating sufficient electricity without relying on natural gas from Russia or Chinese technology. Many in the opposition camp claim nuclear power plants are too risky. But anyone who visits our nuclear power plants today realizes that they have achieved the world’s highest safety standards, following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. (Nine out of a total of 33 nuclear power plants in Japan are now in operation.)
Under the basic economic and fiscal policies approved by the cabinet this month, the Kishida Administration reportedly plans to spend \150 trillion (approximately US$1.1 trillion) over the next decade to make Japan carbon-free by 2050, with wind-power generation very much in mind. But as with solar power, it will be simply impossible to sustain Japan’s enormous energy demand with wind-power generation. Besides, China has the world’s largest share of the equipment for wind-power generation. Every single yen in Japan’s wind-power investment will end up enriching China. The government must immediately review this senseless policy, forging powerfully ahead instead with plans to expand new nuclear power plants with which Japan can truly come into its own.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 1,007 in the July 14, 2022 issue of The Weekly Shincho)