RIC meeting: changing Asia-Pacific dynamics

By Swaran Singh Source:Global Times Published: 2017/12/7 22:28:40

After the relaunching of the Quadrilateral of democracies (the US, Japan, Australia, India) in Manila last month, next Monday will witness the Russia-India-China (RIC) strategic triangle meeting in New Delhi, which will host foreign ministers Wang Yi and Sergey Lavrov. Under the backdrop of Syrian, Iranian, Rohingya and North Korean crises and US President Donald Trump's troubles in office, China and Russia have recently emerged as the leading influencers in the emerging Asian order.

But that's not necessarily true for India, who has moved from holding a policy of non-alignment to one of multi-alignment, including mutually exclusive "triangles" and "quads." India's rapid drift toward the US, in particular, has impacted its intra-RIC relations.

Next Monday's 15th RIC foreign ministers meeting was originally scheduled to take place in April. However, Wang Yi then cancelled his visit, reportedly to convey China's displeasure over the Dalai Lama's visit to the Indian border town of Tawang, that it regards as South Tibet. Beijing, however, denied any such connection. It also denied reports that it had turned down a Russian proposal to invite defense ministers to attend the foreign ministers trilateral meetings.

This is not the first time we have seen the RIC meetings delayed. The 13th round also experienced a similar five months delay, following a last minute cancellation of India's Sushma Swaraj's September 2014 Beijing visit. The trilateral meeting was then hosted by China in February 2015. Again, no official explanation was given, yet it was believed that the proposed dates had overlapped with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's debut visit to Japan in September. The leader did not wish for any other events to diminish the spectacle of his first major foreign trip. To recall, in Japan his speeches voiced concerns regarding Chinese expansionism. This was then followed by his debut visit to the US. Four months later, the January 2015 India visit by former US president Barack Obama formed the "Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean region" by the two nations, overtly upsetting Beijing. Again, the 14th round held in Moscow was scheduled for the second half of 2015, but did not take place until April 2016. Terrorism is often held up as a key issue and has found ample space in the three's joint statements. All three nations see themselves as victims, yet their approaches to addressing terrorism remain divergent, even contradictory.

Indian foreign policy has made addressing terrorism a top priority and will make 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 defense 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.

Meanwhile, Chinese media talks of Russia's equidistance on the Doklam standoff as also of its support toward India's bid for a permanent UN Security Council seat and the Nuclear Suppliers Group membership.

It was in December 1998 that the idea of the "strategic triangle" was first mooted by then Russian prime minister Yevgeny Primakov. He was the first important visitor to India after its nuclear tests, and it took time for trilateral talks to take place on the sidelines 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. All this sparked great interest in Western capitals, generating parallel triangles such as US-Japan-India and US-Japan-Australia, which have now formed into a Quad. It is now perhaps when this stillborn Quad of 2007 is being reinvigorated, that the RIC strategic triangle can gain some much needed momentum.

The author is a professor at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn


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