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RIC, a triangle that is still important

  • 29 July, 2020

  • 8 Min Read

RIC, a triangle that is still important

By, P.S. Raghavan, a former diplomat, is Chairman of the National Security Advisory Board. The views expressed are personal

Context

  • Last month, on June 23, a few eyebrows were raised when India decided to attend a (virtual) meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Russia, India and China (RIC).
  • India stressed on the rules based interational order and to recognise the legitimate interests of the partner countries.
  • Russia also condemned unilateral coercive actions taken to topple the geopolitical rivals.

The initial years

  • When the RIC dialogue commenced in the early 2000s, the three countries were positioning themselves for a transition from a unipolar to a multipolar world order.
  • It was not an anti-U.S. construct; all three countries considered their relationship with the United States an essential prop to their global ambitions.
  • The RIC shared some non-West (as distinct from anti-West) perspectives on the global order, such as an emphasis on sovereignty and territorial integrity, impatience with homilies on social policies and opposition to regime change from abroad.
  • Their support for democratisation of the global economic and financial architecture moved to the agenda of BRIC (with the addition of Brazil).
  • The initial years of the RIC dialogue coincided with an upswing in India’s relations with Russia and China.
  • The advent of President Vladimir Putin reinforced the political, defence and energy pillars of the India-Russia strategic partnership.
  • With China, the 2003 decision to bring a political approach to the boundary dispute and to develop other cooperation, encouraged a multi-sectoral surge in relations.
  • An agreement in 2005, identifying political parameters applicable in an eventual border settlement, implicitly recognised India’s interests in Arunachal Pradesh.

Subtext to India-U.S. ties

  • Simultaneously, India’s relations with the U.S. surged, encompassing trade and investment, a landmark civil nuclear deal and a burgeoning defence relationship that met India’s objective of diversifying military acquisitions away from a near-total dependence on Russia.
  • With rising China emerging as a challenger to its global pre-eminence, the U.S. saw value in partnering with a democratic India in Asia.
  • China went back on the 2005 agreement, launched the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, worked to undermine India’s influence in its neighbourhood and expanded its military and economic presence in the Indian Ocean.
  • The texture of the relationship with Russia also changed, as India-U.S. collaboration widened — in defence and the Indo-Pacific.
  • As U.S.-Russia relations imploded in 2014 (after the annexation/accession of Crimea), Russia’s pushback against the U.S. included cultivating the Taliban in Afghanistan and enlisting Pakistan’s support for it.
  • The western campaign to isolate Russia drove it into a much closer embrace of China — particularly in defence cooperation — than their history of strategic rivalry should have permitted. Thus, the RIC claim of overlapping or similar approaches to key international issues, sounds hollow today.

Links in the grouping

  • Having noted this, the Russia-India-China engagement still has significance.
  • India is in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which is driven by Russia and China and includes four Central Asian countries.
  • Central Asia is strategically located, bordering our turbulent neighbourhood.
  • A sliver of land separates Tajikistan from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
  • Pakistan’s membership of SCO and the potential admission of Iran and Afghanistan (as member states) heighten the significance of the SCO for India.
  • Growing Chinese influence is testing the informal Russia-China understanding that Russia handles the politico-security issues in the region and China extends economic support.
  • It is important for India to shape the Russia-China dynamics in this region, to the extent possible.
  • The Central Asian countries have signalled they would welcome such a dilution of the Russia-China duopoly.
  • The ongoing India-Iran-Russia project for a sea/road/rail link from western India through Iran to Afghanistan and Central Asia, is an important initiative for achieving an effective Indian presence in Central Asia, alongside Russia and China.
  • The defence and energy pillars of India’s partnership with Russia remain strong.
  • Access to Russia’s abundant natural resources can enhance our materials security — the importance of which has been highlighted by COVID-19.
  •  We have to work bilaterally and multilaterally on a range of issues, even while firmly protecting our interests on the border, in technology and the economy.

The Indo-Pacific issue

  • The elephant in the RIC room is the Indo-Pacific. For India, it is a geographic space of economic and security importance, in which a cooperative order should prevent the dominance of any external power.
  • China sees our Indo-Pacific initiatives as part of a U.S.-led policy of containing China. R
  • Russia’s Foreign Ministry sees the Indo-Pacific as an American ploy to draw India and Japan into a military alliance against China and Russia.
  • India’s focus on economic links with the Russian Far East and activation of a Chennai-Vladivostok maritime corridor may help persuade Russia that its interests in the Pacific are compatible with our interest in diluting Chinese dominance in the Indo-Pacific; this also accords with President Putin’s concept of a Greater Eurasia.

Autonomy of action

  • National security cannot be fully outsourced. India’s quest for autonomy of action is based on its geographical realities, historical legacies and global ambitions — not a residual Cold War mindset.

 

Source: TH

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