External affairs minister S. Jaishankar said that recognising the “legitimate interests of partners”, along with respecting international law, is key to building a durable world order. Jaishankar was speaking at the special foreign minister level meeting of the trilateral group of Russia-India-China, which was being held through video conference due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The initial remarks of the three foreign ministers were televised live, after which they switched to ‘closed-door’ discussions. The meeting took place in the backdrop of ongoing border tensions between India and China. Since the special meeting was held to mark 75 years of the victory over the Axis powers, Jaishankar began by reminding both Russia and China that 2.3 million Indian troops had helped the Allies win the Second World War. On this edition of The Big Picture we analyse the key takeaways of the ‘trilateral meet’ in multiple perspectives for UPSC.
Why RSTV? RSTV assumes significance for UPSC Civil Services Examination as it touches the current happenings of all areas with relevant inputs. However, to save your time, here we are providing Gist of Rajya Sabha TV discussion on ‘Russia-India-China Virtual Meet’.
Topic relevance from RSTV Debate on Russia-India-China Virtual Meet for UPSC: Direct questions can be asked on:
Background of RIC
Key-takeaways of the meet
Importance of Russia
Indo-Russia and Sino-Russia Relations
Edited excerpts from the debate:
What is the background of ‘RIC’ process?
RIC as a strategic grouping first took shape in the late 1990s under the leadership of Yevgeny Primakov as “a counterbalance to the Western alliance.”
Primakov, a Russian politician and diplomat who was also the prime minister of Russia from 1998 to 1999, is credited with the idea for RIC.
The group was founded on the basis of “end[ing] its subservient foreign policy guided by the U.S.,” and “renewing old ties with India and fostering the newly discovered friendship with China.”
What are the key-takeaways from the meet?
In spite of the ongoing tension between India and China, the results of the latest ministerial videoconference hint at the possibility of a trilateral leaders’ meeting and a separate consultation between the three countries’ defense ministers later this year.
Also, Russia, India, and China are going to“increase interaction with ASEAN-based structures…” including on COVID-19 issues.
In short, the meeting paved the way for the dialogue’s expansion and more interactions at different levels.
Issues raised by India
In an address, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar underlined the need for recognising legitimate interest of partners in a multilateral set-up and following ethos of international relations.
His comments in presence of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi came in the midst of an escalating border row between India and China following killing of 20 Indian soldiers in the Galwan Valley clash.
The deadliest clash
On June 15, Twenty Indian soldiers lost their lives in the clash. While China also reportedly suffered casualties, the country has not confirmed it.
Following the deadliest clash at the India-China border in 45 years, the two countries have remained in touch in order to find ways of resolving the stand-off at the border.
After the foreign ministers spoke on the phone, India and China held the second round of Corp commanders meeting on June 22, who apparently worked out an outline for ‘dis-engagement’ in their 11 hour-long meeting.
The agreement reached by the 14 Corps commander Lieutenant General Harinder Singh and South Xinjiang Military Region’s Major General Liu Lin, was endorsed and affirmed by diplomats from both sides at the virtual meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on China-India Border Affairs (WMCC).
Respecting international laws: This special meeting reiterates our belief in the time-tested principles of international relations. But the challenge today is not just one of concepts and norms, but equally of their practice.
The leading voices of the world must be exemplars in every way. Respecting international law, recognising the legitimate interests of partners, supporting multilateralism and promoting common good are the only way of building a durable world order.
Lack of India’s recognition in the global order: India did not get its due recognition in the global order post World War II and that the historical injustice remained "uncorrected" for the last 75 years.
When the victors met to fashion the ensuing global order, the political circumstances of that era did not give India due recognition.
This historical injustice has stood uncorrected for the last 75 years, even as the world has changed.
It was important for the world to realise both the contribution that India made and the need to rectify the past.
Need to reform the UN: The External Affairs Minister also spoke about the need for reforming the United Nations so that it can represent the current reality of the globe.
But beyond history, international affairs must also come to terms with contemporary reality.
The United Nations began with 50 members; today it has 193. Surely, its decision making cannot continue to be in denial of this fact.
Why Russia matters?
While India and China have been talking at each other — and not to each other — the outreach to Moscow is noteworthy.
It is widely known that Russia and China have grown their relationship in the past few years. The Moscow-Beijing axis is crucial, especially since Washington has been at loggerheads with China in recent months and Russia much more calibrated, even in its response on the Covid-19
New Delhi believes that the approach of Western countries, especially that of the US towards both Moscow and Beijing, has brought them even closer.
India has a historical relationship with Russia, spanning over seven decades.
While the relationship has grown in some areas and atrophied in some others, the strongest pillar of the strategic partnership is defence.
This time around, Rajnath Singh will also discuss supply and purchase of new defence systems — like the S-400 missile defence system — with the Russian top brass in the military and government.
However, unlike the glory days of Indo-Soviet friendship, today there is more room for doubt in New Delhi as to whether Russia can qualify as a shoulder to lean on.
Why India is so interested in Russia?
India’s interests in Russia are obvious. A significant part of Indian military equipment comes from Russia.
In the midst of the crisis with China, the Indian Air Force has asked for 33 new fighter aircraft including 21 MiG-29s and 12 Su-30 MKIs from Russia. This is an old acquisition plan, but it has been pushed for accelerated delivery.
The deal is worth over 60 billion Indian rupees ($793 million) and is expected to be approved by the Ministry of Defense in the coming days.
In addition, India had already ordered 272 Su-30 MKIs spread over a 10 to 15-year time frame.
How are Sino-Russian relations?
The earlier case
Russia and China have had a rocky start to their relationship, after Mao Zedongfounded the People’s Republic of China.
When Mao made his first visit to Moscow after winning control of China, in 1949, he was made to wait for weeks for a meeting with the Soviet leader.
He spent several weeks cooling his heels in a remote dacha outside Moscow where the sole recreational facility was a broken table tennis table.
During the Cold War, China and the USSR were rivals after the Sino-Soviet split in 1961, competing for control of the worldwide Communist movement.
There was a serious possibility of a major war in the early 1960s and a brief border war took place in 1969.
This enmity began to reduce following Mao’s death in 1976, but relations were not very good until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The present case
In the post-Cold War era, economic relations have formed the “new strategic basis” for Sino-Russian relations. China is Russia’s biggest trading partner and the largest Asian investor in Russia. China sees Russia as a powerhouse of raw material and a growing market for its consumer goods.
The West’s approach towards Russia after the annexation of Crimea through harsh sanctions in 2014 brought Moscow much closer to China. And India, for its part, has always felt that it was the West which has pushed Russia towards a tighter embrace of Beijing.
A Sino-Russian quasi-alliance has formed in recent years, and this has been possible due to the anti-Chinese rhetoric from Washington, collapse of oil prices and growing dependence of Russia on Chinese consumption.
Western analysts see this as a “friendship of convenience” between two countries led by strongmen — Russia by President Vladimir Putin and China by President Xi Jinping.
Russia has been extremely calibrated in its statements on issues on which Beijing is most sensitive to: Huawei’s 5G rollout, Hong Kong and the Covid-19 pandemic(see box).
Beijing and Moscow, however, do not always see eye to eye with each other. China does not recognise Crimea as part of Russia, and Moscow, formally speaking, takes a neutral stance on Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea.
Moscow also backs the China initiated Shanghai Cooperation Organisation of which India, Pakistan and four Central Asian countries are also members.
What is Russia’s take on Sino-Indian clash?
The Sino-Indian clash puts Russia in an awkward position. There is growing recognition in Moscow about pressure from Beijing.
But Russia is also stuck with China because of pressure from the West. Russia’s difficulties in improving relations with Europe have left Moscow with few options.
In the current crisis, Russia appears to have little interest in mediating between China and India.
Although Russia might want to keep its head down in the current crisis.
Russia has a reservoir of support in India because of its traditional support, including during the 1971 India-Pakistan War.
This support glosses over the fact that Russia was neutral during the 1962 Sino-Indian War because it occurred simultaneously with the Cuban missile crisis.
What India should do?
Securing a stable environment without dependence: India should aim to have a secure economic and security environment without dependence on allies and partners. Neither the US nor Russia can unequivocally support India against China in a bilateral conflict because of their economic enmeshment.
A practical strategy on economic front: India needs towork to achieving parity with China in trade terms. China’s economic interest in Indian markets has been detrimental for several sectors, particularly the MSME. Boycotting China is not the answer but Chinese trade proposals need to be scrutinised from a national security perspective as well as our economic goals.
Smart partnership: India must actively look towards other countries to partner with when it comes to certain sensitive sectors and keep Chinese investments out.
Looking ahead, given the new volatility in international relations and the shifting geopolitical landscape, India and Russia are set to enhance their coordination on a range of regional and global issues, including shaping an inclusive and multipolar international order. Overall, India’s strategic goals appear to be increasingly incongruent with that of Russia and China. Russia and China have both endured an increasingly toxic relationship with the US and it may be that the problems run deeper than the disruption caused by the current occupant of the White House. In the next decade, a polarized world order is expected to emerge, with China and the US as its hubs. And if that happens, India might be forced to pick a side. It is too early to say if the calculations are changing.