Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

Russia-India-China: A triangle that is still relevant

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SCO

Mains level : Paper 2-India's relations with Russia and China

RIC engagement started on the promising note but the geopolitical changes over the last two decades have set the three countries on diverging paths. It is against this backdrop, the article articulates why RIC is still relevant.

Background of RIC

  • The RIC dialogue commenced in the early 2000s.
  • At that time 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 though.
  • The initial years of the RIC dialogue coincided with an upswing in India’s relations with Russia and China.
  • The 2003 decision to bring a political approach to India-China 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.

Growing India-U.S. relations

  • During the same period in which RIC dialogues took place, India’s relations with the U.S. surged.
  • This involved trade and investment, a landmark civil nuclear deal and a burgeoning defence relationship.
  • This rising relations with the U.S. met India’s objective of diversifying military acquisitions away from a near-total dependence on Russia.
  • The U.S. saw value in partnering with a democratic India in Asia as China was rapidly emerging as a challenger.

How India-U.S. relations affected RIC

  • China went back on the 2005 agreement.
  • It launched the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and worked to undermine India’s influence in its neighbourhood.
  • And expanded its military and economic presence in the Indian Ocean.
  • 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.

Thus, the RIC claim of overlapping or similar approaches to key international issues, sounds hollow today. But it is still holds significance.

Why RIC is still significant for India

1) SCO

  • Central Asia is strategically located, bordering our turbulent neighbourhood.
  •  Pakistan’s membership of SCO and the potential admission of Iran and Afghanistan heighten the significance of the SCO for India.
  • 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 is an important initiative for achieving an effective Indian presence in Central Asia, alongside Russia and China.

2) Significant bilateral relations

  • India’s defence and energy pillars of partnership with Russia remain strong.
  • Access to Russia’s abundant natural resources can enhance our materials security.
  • With China too, while the recent developments should accelerate our efforts to bridge the bilateral asymmetries, disengagement is not an option.

3) The Indo-Pacific issue

  • 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.
  • 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 should focus on economic links with the Russian Far East and the activation of a Chennai-Vladivostok maritime corridor.
  • This may help persuade Russia that its interests in the Pacific are compatible with our interest in diluting Chinese dominance in the Indo-Pacific.

4) Strategic autonomy of India

  • The current India-China stand-off has intensified calls for India to fast-track partnership with the U.S.
  • National security cannot be fully outsourced.
  • India’s quest for autonomy of action is based on its geographical realities, historical legacies and global ambitions.

Consider the question “The changing geopolitical landscape should not dampen the importance of India’s engagement in the RIC (Russia-India-China) triangle. Comment.” 

Conclusion

India should continue its engagement in the RIC while keeping and protecting its interests.

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