It is a trilateral grouping of Russia, India and China that has met annually since 2002. In recent years, it has functioned as complement to other frameworks involving three countries and including Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)
The discussions of meeting focused on regional security, issues affecting Asia-Pacific region, counter-terror efforts and coordination at regional and multilateral forums. 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.
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.
Need for the trilateral
The Russia-India-China trilateral meet is New Delhi’s attempt to overcome challenges in ties with Moscow and Beijing. The original conception of this framework was a response to a very different global environment.
Conception of the Trilateral
The proposal for a Moscow-Beijing-Delhi ‘strategic triangle’ had originally come from former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov during his visit to India in 1998, when he argued that such an arrangement would represent a force for greater regional and international stability.
The idea of a ‘strategic triangle’ took a tangible form when former Foreign Ministers of Russia, China, and India — Igor Ivanov, Tang Jiaxuan and Yashwant Sinha — met on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York in September 2002.
Scope of talks
- The broader discussions took place in the backdrop of the political scenario in West Asia and North Africa, numerous challenges in putting the world economy back on the growth track, concerns relating to terrorism, transnational organised crime, illicit drug trafficking, food security, and climate change.
- Russia and China’s continued to frame global and regional politics through a similar lens, and the growing divergences between India and them.
- Russia believes that India can benefit by joining China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
- 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.
- Targeting India’s participation in the Quad, Russia underlined that a sustainable security architecture cannot be achieved in the Asia-Pacific region with closed bloc arrangements.
- China also cautioned against spheres of influence and cliques by arguing that China opposed hegemony and power politics and disagree with the sphere of influence and cliques and promote the democratization of international relations.
- China, meanwhile, continued to take an aggressive posture on Doklam and its aftermath. The issue of cross-border incursions by the Indian border troops into Doklam area were handled through diplomatic measures.
- China and India have far greater shared strategic interests than differences, and far greater needs for cooperation than partial friction through diplomatic means, the Indian side withdrew its equipment and personnel which reflected the value and importance of China-India relations and demonstrated sincerity and responsibility of maintaining regional peace and stability.
Tension in the air
The tensions in the trilateral framework are inevitable given the changes in the global geopolitical environment. The three nations had very different expectations from this trilateral.
- Russia’s role was key as its loss of power and influence on the world scene was a major cause of concern for its leadership. There was a growing and pervasive 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 recognized 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 realized 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.
- 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.
- The joint declaration of the recent trilateral meeting held that those committing, organizing, inciting or supporting terrorist acts must be held accountable and brought to justice under international law, including the principle of extradite or prosecute.
- It stopped short of naming Pakistan-based terror groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, something that India would have liked in line with the most recent BRICS declaration.
- An arrangement that had started with an attempt to manage American unipolarity is now being affected fundamentally by Chinese resurgence. Both Russia and India are having to deal with the externalities being generated by China’s rise.
- While Russia is getting closer to China, India is trying to leverage its partnership with other like-minded states in the wider Indo-Pacific region. As a multipolar world order takes shape, India will have to engage with multiple partners so as to limit bilateral divergences.
- The Russia-India-China template comes with its own set of challenges. China suggested that the leaders of the three only meet with each other on international occasions adding this indicates it does not have high status in diplomacy and cannot bear more functions.
- While this may be true, New Delhi’s continued engagement with the duo suggests that India is today confident of setting its own agenda in various platforms.
- 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.