RYO NAKAMURA, Nikkei staff writer
WASHINGTON — India should “speak with a stronger voice” against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, U.S. Rep. Ami Bera told Nikkei in a telephone interview, stressing that “this is a situation where there really can’t be a middle ground.”
Bera, a Indian-American Democratic congressman who represents the California district that includes the city of Sacramento, chairs the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, Central Asia, and nonproliferation, giving him significant clout on legislation and spending in that area.
“As a democracy, as a member of the Quad, and a country that also faces, on their northern border, some aggression of their own territorial sovereignty, I would hope that India would stand with us to say we have to respect the territorial rights of sovereign nations,” he said, referring to tensions with China along the disputed Himalayan border.
India has largely avoided taking a strong stance on the invasion, which Russia calls a “special operation.” New Delhi abstained from voting last week on a United Nations resolution condemning Moscow’s actions and urging its withdrawal from Ukraine, apparently putting more weight on India’s historical ties with Russia.
Condemning Russia’s “unprovoked actions,” Bera applauded the countries that have chosen to speak out.
“We’re appreciative of many of the Asian countries as really stepping up, countries that appreciate the rule of law, appreciate freedom, appreciate sovereign borders, and a rules-based order that has been prosperous for many of the countries in the Indo-Pacific over the last 30-40 years,” he said.
American sanctions against Moscow were an issue for India even before the invasion of Ukraine, with New Delhi’s purchase of a Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air missile system. Many in the Biden administration and Congress had been inclined to waive sanctions for that deal out of consideration for U.S.-India relations.
Bera suggested that that stance could change given the current circumstances. “We’ll continue to evaluate on a day-by-day basis,” he said.
“Our desire is that India — and for that matter China — can both play a constructive role, because they have lines of communication with Russia that we may not have,” which could potentially be leveraged to help broker a cease-fire, the congressman said.
On U.S. national security priorities more broadly, Bera said, “I don’t think it’s either/or” between Europe and the Indo-Pacific. The response reflects a growing view among lawmakers who had previously put China at the top of their list that Europe must be taken into consideration as well.
Asked about similarities between Russia’s actions and China’s moves in the Indo-Pacific, Bera said that “without naming any specific country, we do see the aggression of Russia engaging another sovereign territory, in this case trying to impose its will on the will of the people of Ukraine.”
While the U.S. still honors the “one China” policy, which acknowledges Beijing’s position that Taiwan is a part of China, “we also respect the wishes of the people of Taiwan to choose their own path forward. And in the 21st century, we should certainly uphold that,” Bera said.
Bera suggested that the swift, unified imposition of sanctions on Moscow could serve as a deterrent to Beijing.
“I hope that China sees that the repercussions that Russia is going through — very quickly the Western countries, the countries that value democracy, that value freedom and the rule of law, all came together, including countries in Asia, to condemn Russia’s actions,” he said. “I think this is going to be very damaging to Russia, and hopefully there are some lessons learned from China.”
The congressman discussed proposals to bolster Taiwan’s defense capabilities.
The California National Guard has trained Ukrainian troops, and “we’re seeing that training effort, that preparation, really paying off” in increased effectiveness, Bera said. “I certainly think there’s an opportunity to work with the defense forces in Taiwan to make sure they’re able to defend their island, as well.”