Virtual meeting of RIC foreign ministers was held amid rising tensions in the disputed Ladakh region between India and China. Originally planned for March 2020 but postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the meeting was conducted as Russia’s initiative to mark the 75th Anniversary of the end of World War II, which resulted in the formation of the UN. The grouping has a high dependence on Russia’s close diplomatic ties with both India and China. While the Russian side maintained that it would not mediate between India and China, it also reiterated its support to India’s bid for permanent membership in the UNSC.
This topic of “Russia-India-China Grouping – Issues, Challenges, Way Ahead” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.
What is RIC Grouping?
- Russia-India-China group emerged in the late 1990s following the initiatives by then Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov (1998-1999).
- The aim was to promote a multipolar grouping to offset the US’ influence in Eurasia and create a counterbalance to the Western Alliance.
- Though the grouping functioned largely as an informal coordination mechanism at the official and ministerial level, in recent years, it has also added an apex level summit where the leaders of all the three member counties meet, usually at the sidelines of other multilateral gatherings like the G20 or the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
- The RIC members, together, occupy 19% of the global landmass and contribute to over 33% of the global GDP.
- All three countries are nuclear powers and two – Russia and China – are the permanent members of the UNSC.
- In December 2018, the RIC leaders met in a summit for the first time in 12 years at the G20 Summit. In June 2019, PM Modi chaired the Osaka informal summit of the RIC.
- In June 2020, the three countries’ foreign ministers met virtually to attend the RIC trilateral foreign ministers’ meeting.
Why is RIC important?
To each member country, RIC plays a significant role. Despite it being an unlikely alliance because of India-China rivalry and tensions, it has made sure to provide for the interests of the member countries.
- India cannot only depend on the groupings like QUAD and JAI (Japan-America-India) as they only focus on the issue of Indo-Pacific and confine itself to being only a maritime power when it is also a continental power.
- India cannot relinquish geostrategic space in the Eurasian supercontinent and Russia alone will not be able to thwart China from becoming a hegemon in Eurasia.
- It enables India to have a close strategic relationship with Russia, which would otherwise drift towards China by default.
- For Russia, its regional security and Eurasia’s stability depends on the interactions inside the RIC Grouping.
- RIC is regarded as the key platform for many foreign policy initiatives, from nuclear proliferation to international terrorism and drug trafficking.
- Thus, it plays a critical role in “Greater Eurasian Partnership” – a geopolitical concept unveiled by President Vladimir Putin just a few years ago.
- However, the other member nations, India and China, have shown little interest in this concept.
- Russia is also seeking strategic autonomy in the current bipolar world dominated by China and the US to become the leader of a new ‘Non-Aligned Movement’.
- The RIC is one of the means to this end.
- A balanced alliance with both India and China is vital for Russia to counter a ‘friendship of convenience’ with Beijing because of the US’ antagonism.
- Russia is extremely calibrated in its statements on China’s most sensitive issues – Huawei’s 5G, Hong Kong, claims on the South China Sea and COVID-19 pandemic.
- For its part, China does not recognise Crimea as a part of Russian territory.
- For China, having significant influence in Eurasia is vital and the RIC provides a platform for this purpose.
- Having a close alliance with Russia helps it to counter the US.
What is Russia’s stand on the recent border standoff between India and China?
- The RIC alliance is based on close ties between Russia and China and the time-tested relationship between Russia and India. Russia, in short, acts as a bridge between India and China, countries with increasing diplomatic tensions.
- Majority of the military equipment in India is from Russia. Now, India is accelerating its weapon procurement from Russia in response to Chinese aggression. At the same time, Moscow has suspended the delivery of S400 to China over the allegation of spying by Beijing.
- The current Sino-Indian diplomatic tensions are putting Russia in an awkward position, with Moscow being forced by Chinese pressure and West’s open hostility to incline towards Beijing.
- However, Russia’s bilateral ties with China are rocking because of Moscow’s close traditional ties with New Delhi.
- Taking this into consideration, Moscow has no interest in mediating between China and India and is essentially remaining neutral.
What are the current issues faced by the grouping?
Deviates from India’s current foreign policy:
- Amid the current diplomatic tensions with China, it is unclear how the RIC fits in India’s foreign policy goals.
- While India traditionally avoided taking sides in international politics, especially between the major powers, China’s increased belligerence towards it is forcing New Delhi to make some tough choices.
- India’s growing strategic partnership with the US, Japan and Australia conflicts with the RIC’s goals and objectives of seeking to undermine Washington’s role in the Indo-Pacific. Currently, it is the rise of China that is at the front and centre of many of India’s strategic engagements.
Independent policies towards the US:
- The RIC platform emerged in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War where the member nations tried to promote multipolarity in a world dominated by the US.
- They kept their own channels to the US open, though they openly denounced during every meeting.
- China is the greatest beneficiary as it expanded its material capabilities significantly immediately after the formation of the RIC by enhancing its economic and trade ties with the US.
- India also enhanced its ties with the US, unfettered by structural constraints of the Cold War.
- However, unlike China, which used this time to build its internal capabilities, India remained diffident about engaging with the US.
- This resulted in New Delhi’s foreign policy becoming neither strategic nor very autonomous.
- Currently, improved India-US ties the central to India’s foreign policy. However, the US is a hegemonic power that is incapable of having an equal partnership and would continue to balance India with Pakistan and India with China whenever the need arises.
- Russia, on the other hand, treats India as an equal and opposes Cold War politics – old and new.
Sino-Russia strategic axis:
- Even though Russia is India’s traditional ally, New Delhi knows that Moscow is increasingly under stress to follow China’s dictates.
- Russia is shifting its loyalties to China and the alliance is more pronounced more than ever.
- Moscow has openly opposed the concept of Indo-Pacific, the one India backs along with other like-minded countries.
- China, not only dictates Russia’s policies, but also the agendas of forums like BRICS and SCO.
What can be the way forward?
- Currently, the RIC has become a talk shop in many ways where generic discussions on global issues have become a norm.
- While all three countries support multilateralism, Beijing, with it opposing India’s membership in key international platforms like NSG and permanent membership at the UNSC, will not back India’s call for ‘reformed multilateralism’.
- The current status quo is the one that creates a favourable environment for Chinese aggression and is against the interests of countries like India, Russia, the US and many others.
- It is incumbent upon India to seek reliable partnerships to build multilateral frameworks among like-minded countries.
- Thus, through bilateral and multilateral projects in various sectors, India can gain the trust of countries like Russia so that they can limit their dependence on China for their economic growth.
- This ensures India to create a counterbalance to Chinese influence various multilateral forums like the RIC and BRICS and do away with its dependence on the current position of ‘Middle Power’.
Towards common interests:
- This triangular relationship between India, Russia and China, should not just be a background but must be made a part of the current international politics.
- The forum though seems redundant and not on par with the current international politics, still has the potential to improve the increasingly fragmented world through cooperation in numerous common areas of interests.
- All three member countries want a stable security structure on the Eurasian landmass, especially Afghanistan and RIC provides an ideal platform for this.
- The US, under Trump presidency, is breaking down the current economic and political order.
- The RIC has the potential to contribute towards creating a new economic and political structure that is not dominated by a few major powers.
- The trio can also identify issues where have congruent views like the volatile situation in West Asia, especially the issues like sanctions on Iran.
- They can also work together on disaster relief and humanitarian assistance.
- With the Northern Sea Route opening up due to climate change, the RIC has the common interest in ensuring that it is not left to the West and Russia alone. India and China, through this platform, can make the traction from rule followers to rule-makers by helping in the formulation of the rules governing the Arctic route.
- Furthermore, the three countries can cooperate in the healthy functioning of the BRICS.
- If all three countries want to continue with their peaceful rise, they will have to be flexible, transparent and accommodative, with deeper systems in RIC, as opposed to ad hoc usage by the member countries.
In order to maintain a peaceful multipolar world, alliances like the RIC, BRICS, SCO, QUAD, JAI etc., are vital. For countering the Chinese influence in these platforms, India and other like-minded countries can promote economic and defence alliance that strengthens rules-based world order as opposed to the one exploited and dictated by China.
Practice questions for mains:
Is Russia-India-China (RIC) grouping relevant in the current international politics that is dominated by US-China hostility? What can be the way ahead? (250 words)