Russia-India-China: Trilateral Cooperation and Prospects

Since all three countries support a just and rational new international order with democratization of international politics and multipolarisation, there are a number of areas possible for their political cooperation in the new century.

The international balance of power is changing in favor of world peace. Russia, India and China (RIC) have been interacting trilaterally since 1996. The 11th round of the Russia-India-China (RIC) Foreign Minister’s meeting was held on 13th April, 2012 in Moscow. The impetus of the RIC Foreign Ministers’ recent meeting was strengthened as it was held within the gap of two weeks’ time after the BRICS Summit held in New Delhi on 29th March 2012. RIC’s main agenda have been to oppose unilateralism. Russia-India-China perceives that in today’s world, it is important to discuss the challenges of global security and stability. The diverse threats and risks cannot be addressed by military power alone but need to be appraised through political, social and economic prisms.

Russia-India-China’s possible axis formation is an important political idea in the post-Cold War period advocated by President Yeltsin in 1993 and Prime Minister Primakov in 1996. Indo-Russian, Sino-Russian and Sino-Indian relations have begun to unfold a new trend now. If this trend continues it will stimulate the process of multi-polarism which will be of far reaching significance for the international relations. Countries like Russia, India and China need a multi-polar world in order to get their national interest across and have autonomy of decision-making. To construct a multipolar world, the Russia-India-China triangle would be indispensable. Though there are some unresolved issues between these countries. Movement between these three states towards a better understanding is evident. Russia-India relations flourished during the cold war period. Even after the end of cold war, the relationship was maintained as Russia proved to be India’s tested and trusted friend. Similarly, China-India relationship became smoother in the eighties and after the 1993 accord the economic relations were taken forward. Since then, there are continuous efforts to maintain the relationship on both sides. Russia-China relations have also taken a new shape after the end of cold war. Russia, China and India have a number of converging interests that could add substance to trilateral cooperation. All three backs the primacy of the United Nations in solving crises and support the principle of non-intervention in internal affairs of sovereign states. In the long term, it is the mutual confidence which will help these three powers to play a larger role in global politics.

Prospects of relations between the three countries in the twenty-first century certainly imply coordinated actions taken in response to the challenges of the new century. There is a need to coordinate the actions. Because with the advent of the new century the international environment in which these three states play the part of sovereign actors has become more intricate and complicated. The commonality of the key national interests and the long-term friendly relations in the field of culture, economy and science & technology create a real possibility for cooperation between these three great powers.

There are many issues on which Russia, India and China can cooperate and coordinate. The three nations share wide ranging interest on many major international issues, all of them are committed to build a just and fair, new international political and economic order. There are advantages of three-nation cooperation despite the obvious asymmetries, given the fact that they are amongst the world’s largest continental-sized entities and civilization states. The agenda for future cooperation between China, India and Russia is extensive. Any discussion or reflection on the prospects and possibilities of cooperation between India, China and Russia began with clear understanding of the wider context in which such cooperation would be possible and would progress.

All three countries have had a long history of interaction, exchange, cooperation and close relationships. In the post-world war II period, there have been phases of tremendous warmth and dizzying highs among them. There have also been periods of near-total breakdown and actual hostilities. However, what has become clear to all three is that any restructuring of relations would be based on a qualitatively different strategic reality that would be shaped by and impinged upon by the weight of history and would in some respects have to virtually start from scratch. There is, for instance, no doubt that there could be no resurrection of any kind of alliance relationship clearly directed against or targeting any third country or any agreement offering unconditional support to the other. The post cold war scenario heightened the need for restructuring and readjustment and the process was accelerated even more in the mid-nineties in the relationship of all three.

Since all three countries support a just and rational new international order with democratization of international politics and multipolarisation, there are a number of areas possible for their political cooperation in the new century. This cooperation instead of affecting their independent foreign policies in negative way will strengthen their foreign policies.

One of the major areas of cooperation for the three countries is energy security. Russia is an energy surplus country, whereas, China and India are energy deficient. If these three states can work together, they can invest in joint projects that could facilitate the flow of oil and gas from Russia into China and India. The trilateral cooperation can improve the overall energy security scenario in Asia and the world. All three nations indicated their cooperation with each other.

All three countries are multi-nationality countries. Due to historical reasons there has been ethnic estrangement to different degrees leading to separatist movements. With each other’s cooperation they can refrain from supporting these movements in each other’s country, exchange their experience in solving ethnic problems and can cooperate in opposing terrorism and extremism.

Comprehensive Russia-India-China cooperation is the suitable option in the present Global Scenario. Sustained economic development of Russia, India and China has become the engine of global economy. There are many similarities in the socio-economic conditions of the three countries. Face to face with economic globalisation, the problems they are encountering also have commonalities.

Indeed, the goal of trilateral cooperation is mutual benefit and most likely will conform to the interest of each country. The prospects of cooperation in technology, energy, raw material etc. are extremely broad. Important aspect of the tripartite cooperation is that its success is also subject to the social orientation. The population of each country should recognize the benefits of Russia-India-China cooperation so that it could gain massive support and could be deepened and widened further. Globalisation offers new opportunities and brings new challenges to China, India and Russia. In order to realize the opportunities and to respond to challenges, there is a need of permanent mechanism for exchange of views and coordination of actions.

Russia-India-China cooperation has great importance in terms of geopolitics. The population of these three countries together amounts to around 2.4 billion, 40 percent of the world’s total population. They cover a total area of 29.96 million square kilometers which is 22.5 per cent of the total area of the world. Undoubtedly, the three countries have great human resources, huge potential of market and rich endowment of natural resources.

All the three countries, Russia, India and China are faced with the tasks of developing their economy. Of the three countries of China, Russia and India, China has common borders with both Russia and India. All three countries advocate non-alliance and non-confrontation. The relationship among the three countries affects the basic principles of Asian security. It will definitely have a positive impact on Asian security if their ties could be further improved and more countries are persuaded to observe these principles. Thus, the prospects for the formation of Russia, India and China strong triangle are indeed very bright.

Relationship of Russia-India-China has made headway in the past few years since the first trilateral meeting in Moscow in September 2001 took place. Development of the bilateral relationship has provided a sound basis for the trilateral cooperation between the three nations.
The trilateral format was initiated by holding meetings of the ministries of foreign affairs on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly sessions in New York in the year of 2003 and 2004. A land-mark meeting of the foreign ministers was held in Russia in June 2005 in Vladivostok, which was for the first time independent, without any connection with other international events. As a result a clear-cut profile of the troika took shape. The agenda of the ministerial meeting in this format includes exchange of views on key international and regional problems including war on international terror, illicit drug trafficking and other major challenges. Particularly important is the issue concerning intensification of trilateral economic interaction. Areas of activities in which such interaction would be most promising were outlined at the October 2007 meeting of three ministers in Harbin, China. The areas that were discussed, the three countries provisionally divided these lines of preparation in a way that the issue of agriculture was coordinated by China, that of health-care by India, and emergency prevention and response by Russia. In February 2007 and later in October 2007 when meetings of the foreign ministers of the three countries were held in New Delhi (India) and in Harbin (China) respectively. The task was set to intensify practical preparation within the troika, to create for this purpose necessary organizational conditions and on the whole to attach more structured and dynamic character to relations in this format. The initiation of the consultation mechanism between the heads of territorial departments of the ministries of foreign affairs of Russia, India and China became the basic factor in implementing these objectives. It was decided to hold such events on a regular basis, at least once a year and since then the yearly meeting of RIC foreign Ministers are taking place regularly.

In terms of the international situation and what the three countries can do together the main theme has been that the three countries have similar perceptions. Similar perceptions about what the international order should be looking like. The three countries have stressed the importance of multilateralism. During the recent RIC meeting in Moscow, the three countries Russia-India-China has taken similar positions on the issues of the Syrian crisis and on the Iran’s nuclear issue, everyone was supportive of Kofi Annan's peace initiative. According to RIC, Iran has sovereign right to peaceful nuclear energy and has strongly argued for resolving this issue through political and diplomatic dialogue and through consultations between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The RIC joint statement also reiterated their concerns on Afghanistan, where increasing focus on the exit of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was discussed and RIC focused on post-ISAF exit responsibilities of these three countries, on being immediate neighbour of Afghanistan and victims of terrorism and drugs trafficking emanating from Afghanistan. RIC emphasized on maintaining peace and security in and around Afghanistan. The joint statements mentioned about their commitment to ensure stability in Afghanistan and reaffirmed their commitment to contribute towards ensuring stability and security within the UN framework or through other regional initiatives, including the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), as Russia, India and China all the three countries are either full member or observer of SCO. The growing closeness amongst RIC is clearly noticeable in various forums, from the United Nations to the G-20 Summits, within SCO, during the Asia-Europe Meetings, during Climate Change meetings, during East Asian Summits, and so on. These forums reflect a collective stand by RIC. Perhaps there is some difference in opinion about what multilateralism means, but there is a certain sense that all three countries are favorable to the concept of a more plural, more democratic international aorder and that the three countries together can play an important role in bringing this together.

There are strong complementarities among the three countries, in terms of natural resources, services capability, skilled labour, manufacturing capability, technology and all three are strong on entrepreneurial activity and in innovation and technology activity. However, the current levels of trade, investment and economic interaction between them are far below their potential. There is considerable scope for cooperating on technology and innovation and therefore making use of growth prospects that are going to unfold for the three countries. RIC have already set up subsidiaries like RIC trilateral experts meeting on disaster management, trilateral business forum, and trilateral academic scholar’s dialogue, and held other trilateral projects and conferences in these specialised fields. However, for all three, food and commodity security will emerge as a major concern and that is one area in which closer interaction and some understanding would be essential as the three states go forward to integrate in the global markets. Nonetheless, the idea of trilateral cooperation will need a greater push before it is going to come-up on the radar of the policy makers.

The regular meetings of the three countries foreign ministers are playing the key role at the moment in promoting the trilateral cooperation. The main task of the troika forum is to create a good climate among the three countries and to improve the security paradigm in the region and to strengthen mutual understanding and trust which is essential for finding the best solutions for certain problems at the bilateral level. The principles laid down in the trilateral dialogues are on the principles of equality, mutual trust and consensus. Trilateral cooperation has gained strong momentum and as long as patience and perseverance is maintained, cooperation of the three countries will develop further.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.