Can India chart a smooth diplomatic course?

By Long Xingchun Source:Global Times Published: 2017/12/11 20:38:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT


The 15th Meeting of Foreign Ministers of China, Russia, and India was held on Monday in New Delhi. In the wake of the Doklam standoff between China and India this year, and as India draws closer to the US, with Russia engaging in military cooperation with Pakistan, observers have expressed pessimism over the trilateral meeting.

The US became the only superpower after the Cold War. With its increasing economic clout in the 1990s and victory in the Gulf War, the world seemed to enter a unipolar mode dominated by the US.

Aside from the US and its allies, there are other major powers like Russia, China, India - some wish to maintain their major power status, some aspire to become one. With the need to deal with post-Cold War international relations, promote the democratization of international relations, advocate a multipolar world order and establish new global political and economic orders, the three countries have similar stances on many international issues, and they felt it necessary to communicate and cooperate with each other.

In January 2001, after George W. Bush became US president, power politics and unilateralism were growing. It brought more pressure to China, Russia and India, leading to an informal meeting between the foreign ministers of the three countries in September the next year.

On the margins of the 32nd G8 summit in 2006, the leaders of China, Russia and India held their first trilateral summit.

All sides well understood the contradictions between each other and the reality of international politics, so they chose to follow a new relationship of non-alignment, non-confrontation and not targeting third parties. The meeting is mainly a chance to communicate strategically about important international issues. After the US started the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the stances of the three countries were much the same.

Despite the US-India closeness, the three countries still have similar stances on the Iran nuclear issue, the Afghan issue, the Syrian conflict, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the quotas of the International Monetary Fund. Economically, Russia is a big energy supplier, and China and India are big energy consumers with rising demand, so trilateral cooperation has seen some success.

But we also must realize the limitations of the trilateral meeting. It is just a meeting between foreign ministers and the leaders of the three only meet with each other on international occasions. This indicates it does not have high status in diplomacy and cannot bear more functions.

The mechanism can provide a platform for bilateral communication, but bilateral conflicts should not be dragged into it, otherwise the trilateral mechanism will be jeopardized without bilateral conflicts being addressed. The mechanism cannot be considered as ineffective just because it cannot satisfy a certain country's demands, and cooperation among the three on important areas of common interest should not be impeded.

India has benefited a great deal from the meeting. As China and Russia are both permanent members of the UN Security Council, with China the second-largest economy and Russia the second-largest military power, it has raised India's international status enormously to join the meeting as it pursues its goal of becoming a major power.

To prevent India from getting too close to China and Russia, the US has to draw India into its orbit, which lifted the weight of India in US diplomacy. As China, Russia and India are all BRICS nations, and India participated in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the trilateral summit indeed has raised the status of India in these two organizations.

While India is engaged in this trilateral meeting, it is also holding a ministerial-level trilateral dialogue with the US and Japan. It reveals India's interests-driven pragmatism. The limitations of cooperation between the US and India can provide possibilities for cooperation between China, Russia and India, while the limitations of the three do the same for cooperation between the US and India.

India's recent tilt to the US has triggered doubts from China and Russia, and it may have a negative effect on the support that China and Russia could offer India on a global level, such as supporting India in its bid to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Russia's change in attitude over military cooperation with Pakistan is an obvious signal.

As the US under former president Barack Obama dragged India into its rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, but excluded it from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, it showed the US supported India just out of its own interests, but not India's. The cooperation between China, Russia and India still has large room to maneuver, and India should find a balance in its vacillating diplomacy.

The author is a senior research fellow at The Charhar Institute and director of the Center for Indian Studies at China West Normal University.


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