At the recent G-20 Summit in Buenos Aires, even as the newly-forged Japan-USA-India (JAI) trilateral meeting hogged attention, there was another equally important meeting which took place on the side-lines — that of the Russia-India-China (RIC) trilateral, a much older grouping. Also, this was the first meeting of the heads of government of the three Eurasian powers in 12 years. Conceived by the then Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov in 1998, much before BRICS, the idea of the RIC never really took off unlike the BRICS, despite occasional meetings on the side-lines of the UN General Assembly and other multilateral meetings. However, this time, the three countries have agreed to hold regular summits from now on at all levels to jointly promote peace and stability.
They emphasised on the need to promote multilateralism, reform institutions of global governance like the UN and the WTO and highlighted the need to work together to steer global economic governance.
The RIC is a significant multilateral grouping, because it brings together the three largest Eurasian countries which are also incidentally geographically contiguous.
So, in a sense, Russia becomes the bridge between India and China, since it enjoys strong relations with both. Moreover, the RIC forms the core of both the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the BRICS.
As for India, well, it is in a geostrategic sweet spot today. It is being wooed by everyone from the smaller powers in East Asia to the bigger powers like the US, Russia and China. The RIC summit is a reflection of this new found status.
India would do well to give RIC the same importance as the JAI group. The drawback if India focuses only on groupings like the Quad and the JAI is that these groupings essentially revolve around the Indo Pacific and will confine India to being only a maritime power when it is actually both a maritime and continental power.
It is important for India as an aspiring power to be able to thwart China’s aspirations of being a hegemon in both the maritime and continental spheres. India cannot cede geostrategic space in the Eurasian supercontinent to China if it wants to be a great power and it understands that Russia alone will not be able to prevent the emergence of China as a hegemon in Eurasia.
India can play JAI v/s RIC card in order to secure important benefits for itself from both the groupings like NSG membership and sanctions on Pakistan’s terror activities etc.
AI and RIC together can ensure safe, secure and open navigation on high seas including Indo-Pacific and South China Sea.
As the Eurasian supercontinent regains its primacy in world affairs and as the interests of India, Russia and China deepen and clash in the region, it would be useful to have a platform to discuss areas of cooperation and understand the differences.
The trio could also contribute to creating a new economic structure for the world. The US, under President Trump, apparently wants to break down the current economic and political order.
While the existing structure is not satisfactory, the RIC could offer some suggestions which could be acceptable to the US.
With Russia being a major exporter of energy and India and China being major consumers, the three countries could discuss the creation of an Asian energy grid, which could go a long way in ensuring energy security for the region as well as allow these countries to determine prices suitable to them. They could work together on disaster relief and humanitarian assistance.
Finally, with the Northern Sea Route opening up due to climate change, the RIC has a common interest in ensuring that it is not left to the West and Russia alone and that India and China make the transition from rule followers to rule makers by helping formulate some of the rules governing the Arctic route.
Annexation of Crimea, proxy war in Syria, Russian alleged meddling and hacking of US elections and Russian violation of Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, Rising protectionism, unilateral sanctions, indifference to climate change effects and undemocratic hegemony over global institutions like UN, IMF and WTO etc have created fresh challenges for the World peace.
India is perfectly placed between RIC and JAI to act as a swing state. India’s any action in the JAI and RIC conundrum has the ability to tilt the balance of power to either side. Hence it would be prudent for India to act as a balancing state between both and simultaneously create leverages in both RIC and JAI to keep one group as a guard against another for India’s benefit.
The RIC summit is a continuation of the turnaround in India’s foreign policy after Prime Minister Modi’s summit meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Wuhan and President Putin in Sochi earlier this year. It is an assertion of India’s strategic autonomy, which will hopefully continue in the near future.