Rebalancing Power Equations in Asia: Today’s Talk on Editorials
Significance: The foreign ministers of Russia, India, and China met for their fifteenth ministerial trilateral meeting in New Delhi. Russia was represented by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, India by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, and China by Foreign Minister Wang Yi. In a lengthy joint statement released after the meeting, the three sides stated their interest, concern, and objectives on a range of issues.
History of the RIC Meet: The grouping has met formally since 2002 at the foreign-minister level and has its origin in the Primakov triangle. The Primakov extrapolation to the RIC meet was that the United States would emerge as the sole superpower after the USSR’s disintegration and a multipolar world order would be more desirable than a unipolar one dominated by US certitude and post-cold war swagger.
Although started to counter the unipolarity of U.S. and establish a multipolar world, the trilateral meeting is now suffering under the pressure of Chinese resurgence. Initially, India had expected that the combined might of Delhi and Moscow would balance Beijing. Instead, it is now having to contend with Moscow and Beijing joining forces. For China and Russia, balancing against the US is their top strategic priority. For New Delhi, managing a rising China is now an urgent concern.
Outcomes of the RIC Meet: The Russia-India-China trilateral format yields varied results from year to year. Last year, for example, India had signed a joint statement with Russia and China that outlined a China-oriented view of the South China Sea disputes.
This year it did not appear which is unsurprising given India’s recent full-throated support for the concept of a free and open Indo-Pacific which privileges freedom of navigation and international law in Asia’s maritime commons. This year’s Russia-India-China joint communique did nevertheless mention freedom of navigation but it also made no reference to the South China Sea specifically.
The statement underlined the importance of the establishment of a just and equitable international order based on international law and featuring mutual respect, fairness, justice in international relations.
India made a case for strengthening cooperation among the three countries in effectively countering terrorism and naming Pakistan-based terror groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed in the RIC communique, citing a similar move by the BRICS grouping.
Overall the broader discussions focussed on terrorism, the political scenario in the Middle East and North Africa, challenges in putting the world economy back on the growth track, transnational organised crime, illicit drug trafficking, food security, and climate change.
The trilateral called for the swift and effective implementation of existing international commitments on countering terrorism, including the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, relevant UN Security Council resolutions and targeted sanctions relating to terrorism and the FATF International Standards worldwide.
Conclusions from the meet for India: RIC meeting was conducted after the India-Japan-Australia-US Quadrilateral meeting on the sidelines of the East Asia summit. The RIC trilateral was New Delhi’s balancing act in its attempt to restore multi-alignment in its foreign policy.
The meeting also indicated that China and India have far greater shared strategic interests than differences and far greater needs for cooperation than partial friction. This was proved because the meeting was conducted in the aftermath of Dalai Lamas visit to Arunachal Pradesh and even after Doklam, one of the most serious crises in Sino-India ties in recent times.
India and Russia are keen on making substantive progress in the development of the 7,200-km International North-South Transport Corridor that links India, Iran, Afghanistan, and Central Asia with Europe. This comes after the successful development of Chabahar port in Iran.
With regard to terrorism front, India believes that double standards and selective approaches will only undermine the international community’s resolve to combat terrorism. This comes in the wake of China’s decision to block or veto the designation of an acknowledged terrorist and leader of the UN-designated terrorist organisation, Masood Azhar.
Conclusion: The RIC trilateral of the 1990s is losing its relevance as China and Russia are re-evaluating their foreign policy options. The RIC trilateral does not serve its original purpose anymore. India is coming to terms with China’s rise and Russia’s growing closeness to China.The message from RIC is quite clear, that the world is changing far too rapidly and Indian diplomacy will have to evolve equally fast to preserve its equities.