Insights into Editorial: Looking for balance in power
A month after India was part of the ‘Quad’ discussion on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Manila involving Japan, Australia and the U.S., New Delhi hosted foreign ministers of Russia and China this week.
The meeting is also the first ministerial meeting of its kind since India’s lengthy summer standoff with China along their disputed Himalayan border, in Doklam.
The Russia-India-China trilateral held its 15th meeting in what can be construed as New Delhi’s attempt to get a semblance of balance in its ties with Moscow and Beijing.
It was in December 1998 that the idea of the “strategic triangle” was first mooted by then Russian prime minister. He was the first important visitor to India after its nuclear tests, and it took time for trilateral talks to take place on the side-lines of UN General Assembly. From 2006, these turned into stand-alone formal foreign minister meetings.
The RIC has since been working together in various regional and global organizations, including BRICS, SCO and BASIC, and has come to be viewed as a restraining force on any unquestioned Western hegemony
15th Meeting of RIC Foreign Ministers:
The discussions of meeting focused on regional security, issues affecting Asia-Pacific region, counter-terror efforts and coordination at regional and multilateral forums.
But what was perhaps interesting was Russia and China’s continued attempts to frame global and regional politics through a similar lens, and the growing divergences between India and them.
The ministers reiterated importance trilateral format as platform to foster closer dialogue and practical cooperation in identified areas.
The ministers released joint communiqué after meeting. They agreed to strengthen the trilateral dialogue for consultation and coordination on regional and global issues of mutual interest.
- International and regional peace: They held that cooperation is conducive to maintaining international and regional peace, stability and promoting global economic growth and prosperity. They stressed for establishment of just and equitable international order based on international law and mutual respect, fairness and justice. They held that various crises in the world should be resolved in accordance with the international law.
- Terrorism: The three nations also condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and reaffirmed that all acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable irrespective of their motivations, committed wherever and by whomsoever. Those committing, organising, inciting or supporting terrorist acts” must be held accountable and brought to justice under international law.
- Arms Race: They called for prevention of arms race in outer space for maintaining international peace and security. Russia and China reiterated that they welcome India’s participation in Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.
Why does Trilateral not lead to consequences of any great import?
The three nations had very different expectations from this trilateral. This was also a period which saw significant shifts in Indo-U.S. ties as bilateral relations expanded while Russian and Chinese links with the U.S. have witnessed a downward shift.
There was a growing and persistent feeling in Russia that it surrendered its once-powerful position on the world stage for a position of little international influence and respect. It is against this backdrop that Russia tried to establish itself as the hub of two bilateral security partnerships that could be used to counteract U.S. power and influence in areas of mutual concern.
While Russia witnessed a downward slide in its status as a superpower since the end of the Cold War, China emerged as a rising power that saw the U.S. as the greatest obstacle, if it was to achieve a pre-eminent position in the global political hierarchy.
As a consequence, China recognised the importance of cooperating with Russia to check U.S. expansionism in the world, even if only for the short term.
In fact, American policies towards Russia and China moved the two states closer to each other, leading to the formation of a new balance of power against the U.S.
India, on the other hand, had different considerations, as it was still far from becoming a global power of any reckoning.
India saw in the trilateral a mechanism to bring greater balance in the global order as it believed that a unipolar U.S.-dominated world was not in the best interests of weaker states like itself, even as strategic convergence deepened between Washington and Delhi.
Moreover, all three countries realised the enormous potential in the economic, political, military and cultural realms if bilateral relationships among them were adequately strengthened.
As a consequence, the trilateral did not lead to consequences of any great import. It merely resulted in declarations which were often critical of the West, and of the U.S. in particular.
RIC meeting during changing Asia-Pacific dynamics
Indian foreign policy has made addressing terrorism a top priority and made it the highlight of this 15th RIC trilateral meeting. However they also deserve credit for not allowing their standpoint to complicate a consensus on serious issues.
- India and China view Pakistan’s connections to terrorism very differently and India also remains skeptical about Russia and Pakistan building closer defence ties.
- Moscow shows increasing interest in China’s flagship China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, that remains a bitter point for India.
- India worries about Russia’s growing closeness to China and also China’s revival of friendship with Pakistan, whilst both China and Russia seem skeptical about India’s growing closeness toward the US.
An arrangement that had started with an attempt to manage American unipolarity is now being affected fundamentally by Chinese resurgence.
The Russia-India-China template comes with its own set of challenges. New Delhi’s continued engagement with the duo suggests that India is today confident of setting its own agenda in various platforms.
China-India relations should demonstrate sincerity and responsibility of maintaining regional peace and stability.
Just as China engages with the U.S. on the one hand and with Russia on the other, a rising India is quite capable of managing its ties with Washington, Beijing and Moscow simultaneously.
It will not always be easy, but in an age when the certitudes of the past are fast vanishing, diplomacy will have to tread a complex path.