Russia-India-China Foreign Ministers Meeting: What Gets?
It has been a busy week for Foreign Minister S Jaishankar. There was the first meeting of the “Joint India-UK Cyber Deterrence Working Group”, another of the SCO Council of Heads of Government, consultations with Estonia, the official announcement of the Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Delhi next month for India’s annual Russian Summit and mobilization of foreign investment during Vibrant Gujarat curtain-raiser.
And it wasn’t the weekend yet.
But Jaishankar’s most important appointment was his chairmanship of the Russia-India-China (RIC) Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, which was held by video link on Friday, November 26.
The poignant nature of the date was paramount, since his department also summoned a senior diplomat from the Pakistani High Commission, to present him with a verbal note – an official dossier of information provided to another country – on how Pakistan has dragged its feet for 13 long years, to bring to justice the perpetrators of the 11/26 attacks in Mumbai, based in Pakistan.
Cynics would say that both were wasted efforts, as the Pakistanis will not sooner stop using terrorism as a tool against India, as the Chinese will abandon their strategic necessities of ensuring the security of Rawalpindi, to usher in a era of peace and prosperity with India.
Nonetheless, it is important that we analyze the last RIC meeting for the main takeaways.
As outgoing president (he has rotated to China for a year now), Jaishankar said this RIC meeting will cover the Wuhan virus pandemic, multilateral systems reforms (i.e. among others, international bodies such as the Security Council) and global hot spots.
He also informed that only opening statements will be made public, meaning that the real discussions will be closed.
He got to the point after suggesting that the Vasudaiva kutumbakam concept be adopted within the framework of the RIC mechanism, to foster cooperation in multiple sectors: the current global epidemic has shown an urgent need for a “One Earth, One Health” approach, which means “a timely international response”. , transparent, efficient and non-discriminatory to health problems, including pandemics, with equitable and affordable access to essential drugs and medical supplies ”.
Translation: no country should be allowed to subvert the World Health Organization, cover up catastrophic blunders with global consequences like the Chinese did in Wuhan.
The next point was on “reformed multilateralism”; Basically, he reiterated India’s long-standing demand, that the Security Council should be expanded to include India and a few others as permanent members, in recognition of changing global dynamics.
Appropriately, however, our Minister of Foreign Affairs used the phrase “international law” rather than “rules-based order”. It was a nod to the old rebuke of the Russians that the Americans were doing their own thing, invoking that last sentence and citing the requirement, rather than going through prescribed procedures.
The third and most important point from Jaishankar concerned Afghanistan. India was concerned about developments in that country and Pakistan’s obstruction of access to land; although, of course, these sentiments were expressed in humanitarian terms of seeking to provide aid to the “suffering… Afghan people”.
Translation: if Rawalpindi and the Taliban think they can rejoice in Beijing’s blessings, then they have more to come.
Wang Yi, Chinese Foreign Minister, went next. He informed his “two old friends” that in his opinion, anti-globalization, unilateralism, protectionism, hegemonism and the politics of power were on the rise, to pose challenges to a world already shaken by the economic meltdown caused by a of Covid-19 around the world.
There was no hollow laughter or the squeaky and excessive bonhomie, when there was none between two participants in three, nor such blatant casuistry, focusing only on the resurgence of the epidemic while conveniently avoiding its origins.
Perhaps the other two ministers only managed to keep a straight face because of their professionalism.
Ignoring the ironies inherent in his remarks, the Beijing representative continued. The world, he said, was entering a new era of transformation. China intended to achieve this by seeking peace, respecting humanity, sovereignty, and practicing solidarity with India and Russia.
This collection of bromides, in a nutshell, defined China’s approach to world affairs – a moralizing, somewhat illusory view that the right words spoken in public forums are enough to cover up real intentions and fundamentally destabilizing acts.
What was Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to say after that, but to advocate multilateralism, multipolarity, increase the relevance of the United Nations, complain about motivated unilateral sanctions (a reference to America and pressure on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Western Europe) and warning against protectionism?
However, he said that, from Russia’s point of view, the RIC format remains a relevant platform to achieve security and economic integration in the Eurasian space.
Sadly, the net result of China’s current needs is that the RIC forum, with a healthily united Eurasian counterweight to the West that Russia desperately seeks, will remain a pipe dream until China changes its approach.
And that’s the Russian conundrum – to put India and China on the same page, so the three can together force a long-awaited change in world affairs.
Russia desperately needs it because, in addition to meeting the aspirations of the two growing giants of Asia, it must also balance Europe and America, while consolidating its nascent global energy pricing powers.
That won’t happen as long as China uses levers to keep India in check.
When the Non-Aligned Movement died with the Soviet Union, an effort was started with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). But it didn’t work because the Russians were wary of India’s leanings, the Chinese equivalence wanted Pakistan to be on the same pedestal as India, and everyone said that India and the Pakistan in the same boat was a non-runner.
The next move was the BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – which seemed to gain ground after Modi’s victory in 2014. They even together created a development bank, the BRICS Bank, with KV Kamath. as first leader.
But six years later, the bank is now called the New Development Bank, and it has yet to open a regional office in India (there is one in each of the other four BRICS member countries).
RIC is the third attempt. And yet, under the ICR, China remains Russia’s problem, not India’s. Has China grown so big that the Russians are no longer able to make them understand even a little bit of meaning?
If so, then the RIC is intended to follow the path of the SCO and the BRICS. Otherwise, Russia will have to make some tough choices to recognize India’s security concerns as not only valid, but also related to Russia’s quest for this elusive Eurasian sphere.