Explained: Russia-India-China (RIC) Triangle


Last month, amid the border tensions at the Line of Actual Control (LAC), India decided to attend a (virtual) meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Russia, India and China (RIC).

Background of Russia-India-China (RIC) Triangle

  • The RIC dialogue commenced in the early 2000s, when the three countries positioned themselves for a transition from a unipolar to a multipolar world order.
  • The idea of strategic triangle took root with the end of the Cold War when the US assumed the role of global cop.
  • It was established not as an anti-U.S. construct and all three countries considered their relationship with the United States an essential prop to their global ambitions.
  • The RIC shared some non-West (as distinct from anti-West) perspectives on the global order, such as an emphasis on sovereignty and territorial integrity, impatience with homilies on social policies and opposition to regime change from abroad.
  • Its support for democratisation of the global economic and financial architecture moved to the agenda of BRIC (with the addition of Brazil).
  • The initial years of the RIC dialogue coincided with an upswing in India’s relations with Russia and China.
  • The advent of President Vladimir Putin reinforced the political, defence and energy pillars of the India-Russia strategic partnership.
  • With China, the 2003 decision to bring a political approach to the boundary dispute and to develop other cooperation encouraged a multi-sectoral surge in relations.

Importance of RIC Triangle

  • Inclusion of India in Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO): RIC engagement still has significance as India is in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which is driven by Russia and China.
  • India’s engagement with Central Asia: Central Asia is strategically located, bordering our turbulent neighbourhood as a sliver of land separates Tajikistan from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
  • Focus on growing Chinese influence: Growing Chinese influence is testing the informal Russia-China understanding that Russia handles the politico-security issues in the region and China extends economic support and it is important for India to shape the Russia-China dynamics in this region, to the extent possible.
  • Increasing the presence of India in Central Asia: The ongoing India-Iran-Russia project for a sea/road/rail link from western India through Iran to Afghanistan and Central Asia, is an important initiative for achieving an effective Indian presence in Central Asia, alongside Russia and China.
  • Importance of bilateral arms between Russia-India-China: The defence and energy pillars of India’s partnership with Russia remain strong.  Access to Russia’s abundant natural resources can enhance our materials security.

Impact of growing US-India ties on RIC Triangle

  • India moving away from a near-total dependence on Russia: India’s relations with the U.S. surged, encompassing trade and investment, a landmark civil nuclear deal and a burgeoning defence relationship that met India’s objective of diversifying military acquisitions away from a near-total dependence on Russia.
  • Countering emergence of China as super-power: As China was rapidly emerging as a challenger to its global pre-eminence; the U.S. saw value in partnering with a democratic India in Asia.
  • Transformation of external environment: China launched the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in 2005 in order to undermine India’s influence in its neighbourhood and expanded its military and economic presence in the Indian Ocean.
  • Change in texture of Russia-India ties: The texture of the relationship with Russia also changed, as India-U.S. collaboration widened in defence and the Indo-Pacific.

Challenges or concerns associated with RIC Triangle

  • Overlapping approaches of RIC: The western campaign to isolate Russia drove it into a much closer embrace of China particularly in defence cooperation and the RIC claim of overlapping or similar approaches to key international issues, sounds hollow.
  • The issue of Indo-Pacific region: 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 but China sees India’s interest in Indo-Pacific 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.
  • Rising mistrust in India-China relations: The strategic mistrust in India-China relations has been rising, the future deliverables of the trilateral mechanism are more doubtful.

Significance of RIC Triangle post Galwan Valley Stand-off

  • RIC Triangle is regarded as a key platform for many Russian foreign policy initiatives, from nuclear nonproliferation to international terrorism and drug trafficking.
  • RIC provides the top diplomats of each country with an additional opportunity to express their respective foreign policy visions and discuss some common threats and issues.
  • The regularity of meetings of RIC Trilateral, even at times of disputes, is often perceived to underline the enduring relevance of a grouping.

Way Forward

  • For a durable world order, major powers should respect international law and recognise the legitimate interest of partners.
  • It is required to work bilaterally and multilaterally on a range of issues, even while firmly protecting India’s interests on the border, in technology and the economy.
  • India’s focus on economic links with the Russian Far East and activation of a Chennai-Vladivostok maritime corridor may help persuade Russia that its interests in the Pacific are compatible with India’s interest in diluting Chinese dominance in the Indo-Pacific.
  • It is high time that Moscow recalibrated its relations with India, which is a key to achieving a genuine geopolitical equilibrium in the region as Russia will need both partners to promote its global and regional agenda.

Source: The Hindu

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