Russia India China (RIC) and the Politics of Triangulation
Real time analysis
The Indian leadership turning to Russia when China is breathing down the Indian neck and the US wants to play a ‘fair’ dealer between the two appears the logical thing to do. But it’s time for some real time analysis.
Minister of External Affairs Jaishankar had a virtual meeting of the RIC. But nothing new or significant came out of this meeting except repeated platitudes. Russia said that China and India can resolve bilateral issues, and that India should be in the Security Council (Just what India wants to hear). The Indian FM obliquely pulled the Chinese leg by asking all big powers to adhere to international law. China agreed to another trilateral along side the G-20.
The reason for the non-event is that the RIC has not been developed as a serious forum, and needs deeper systems in place as opposed to ad hoc usage by the three nations.
Meanwhile Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh is on yet another defence marketing trip to shore up missile purchases already in process, and likely to be paid for in national currencies. So more business as usual, with the additional frill of a historic World War II victory day parade where an Indian contingent will be present.
Of course there will be some behind the scenes back talks- but these will be talks to discuss more back talks. But if any of the three countries want to make history and continue with their peaceful rise, then they will have to be flexible, accommodative and transparent.
The point is the history of this particular triangular relationship cannot just be background, but part of current analysis. It is clear that China by pushing its agenda in Ladakh is giving an active message not just to India, but to the World: If India can be a soft target, then the world (including Russia) better watch out. China’s assertion through escalation and de-escalation of hard power is an old game. They have done this several times with several countries and will continue to do so.
It is also true that power projection by all countries in the international and regional system is equally addressed to domestic politics and construction of threats to manage internal/nationalist power games.
In the current imbroglio India has had to turn to Russia, that will behind the scenes nudge China –to the extent it can, and has done before. The Russian argument is that a Sino-Indian confrontation would be a bad idea for both countries, for the Eurasian region and for the international system. It will damage Chinese legitimacy in the international system; reduce the already limited Chinese soft power; and no confrontation between India and China is winnable, just as no confrontation between the Cold war Soviet Union and US was. So the two need to find a solution.
But the point is how long can India have such unclear, ad hoc and revisionist policies? And how often will they cry wolf to Russia, while trying to howdy with the US, which has embarked on a ‘dual containment’ policy against both Russia and China?
The clarity on this is missing. Even as India is trying to become a ‘transactional’ i.e. non-ideological power, the tilt towards the US and towards a religious ideology is evident to all.
The US as a hegemonic power is incapable of having any equal partnership and would continue to balance India with Pakistan when it needs and even India with China when its own interests are concerned.
Indian analysts who have been long touting for an India –US alliance ignore history and tend to make a wall between domestic and international politics. A strategic alliance with the US would make India yet another client state of the US.
Russia on the other hand, history gives evidence, has been willing to have India as an equal and unconditional partner. This was so, in all previous Indian crises since the 1960’s till recently up to the tensions in Doklam.
Russia is in a close strategic partnership with China and the two are on the same page on most issues in international politics. They are both critics of US hegemony and Russia will partner China in its effort to be a bigger player in the international system. But Russia has ensured that its alliance with China is on equal terms, and that China cannot drag the Russians into any conflict they could have with a third party.
Even as Russia has provided support to India, when others have not and India has reciprocated in many ways, there is always a possibility that Russia’s support to India, can turn from an unconditional one to a conditional one, if India enters into any military alliance against China.
Russian leadership and think tanks have said in one voice that if there is a confrontation between China and the US they would like to stay out of this. Which means that Moscow is not for a repeat of Cold War politics –new or old. Russia has strategic alliances but retains its strategic autonomy.
China knows that well. In other words, Russia is still plugging for a multipolar world, where they along with others will have equal opportunity.
India on the other hand seems to be wanting to piggy back on one, and then (like the spirit- Betal) disappear and find alternate piggybacks, but finally coming back to Russia again. Russia will bear this only for some time.
India therefore has to strengthen its partnerships not just with Russia but the entire Asian region and internationally. It has to treat all countries big-or small with equality, rather than ride on it ‘Middle power’ game.
If borders remain un-demarcated they will fester like old wounds. India has to learn from its own history rather than re-write it- both domestically and externally.
India will have to live with China and in fact accommodate it. At the same time, they need to stay firm, make moves for peace and shun jingoism. All this can be achieved with a national conversation, where the leadership and the deeply multicultural India speak with each other, unmediated by the war hungry lobby.
Ultimately India will have a right foreign policy if it reflects the true Indian diverse spirit.
Anuradha Chenoy writes on international relations and was earlier Professor in Jawaharlal Nehru University.