Russia-India-China: RIC Format Receives New Impetus / Valeria Gorbacheva

Valeria Gorbacheva, Government and Public Organizations Communication Director at the BRICS National Research Committee – especially for InfoBRICS.

The initiative of trilateral contacts between Moscow, Delhi and Beijing belonged to Yevgeny Primakov (Russia’s Foreign Minister in 1996-1998.) Back in the 1990-s Primakov foresaw the strengthening of Russia, India and China, which eventually would make these large continental powers an integral part of the new world order.

New format

Foreign Ministers of Russia, India and China held their first meeting in 2002, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session. Since then, foreign ministers meet regularly (annually or every 1.5-2 years). The RIC format of ministerial meetings is constantly evolving, complemented by new mechanisms, such as consultations on the level of foreign policy agencies, secretariats of the Security Councils, academic forums and, finally, summits.

The first meeting of the leaders of Russia, India and China was held in 2006 as part of the G20 summit in St. Petersburg. With the rise of new centers of power, the troika format formed the core for a new integration association - BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa).

The first summit of BRICS (the "Five") was held on Russia’s initiative in Yekaterinburg in 2009. The new format of BRICS, the core of which was RIC, was set to be the main platform for holding regular meetings of the heads of five states. However, 12 years later, the RIC format received a new impetus: at the end of 2018, the leaders of the three powers gathered on the initiative of Russia on the margins of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires. The leaders of India and China supported the statement by Russian President Vladimir Putin that such meetings should become regular.

In search for compromises

According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the RIC format became one of the driving forces of regional efforts to enhance the architecture of interstate relations in the Asia-Pacific Region (APR)." The parties are counting on the ongoing development of multilateral cooperation in order to promote a joint approach to ensuring global and regional security and sustainable development based on the principles of international law, good neighborliness, equality and mutual respect. The RIC format is an example of how to search for compromises and how to find them. Despite the peculiarities of holding tripartite negotiations, where each country seeks to act according to its national interests, the parties always come to a common decision.

Today, the RIC format remains in demand as a tool for finding answers to the key challenges of our time. Strengthening tripartite contacts is in the interests of the whole world, since it contributes to the coordination of efforts in building a more democratic and fair system of international relations. The stabilizing nature of RIC gives strength to other international formats. The consolidation of the foreign policy coordination of the three countries continues within the framework of the UN, the G20, BRICS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the East Asia Summit, the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), etc.

It is no secret that the history of Russia's relations with its partners in the "triple alliance" is strategic. As the largest players in the region, Russia, India and China are actively developing partnerships on a bilateral basis, while stable channels of strategic ties allow them to skillfully maneuver in terms of the implementation of their foreign policy ambitions in Greater Eurasia and the Asia-Pacific Region.

Russia-China: dialogue among equals

The USSR and the People’s Republic of China established diplomatic relations in 1949. The USSR became the first foreign state to announce the recognition of the PRC. The basic principles and directions of bilateral cooperation are reflected in the Treaty on Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation between the People’s Republic of China the Russian Federation signed in 2001.

Traditionally warm relations between Russia and China allow them to further strengthen their comprehensive, equitable, trusting partnership and strategic interaction at all levels. At the same time, the countries do not bind each other in relations with third states, and the potential for the development of bilateral conflict tends to zero.

The two geopolitical giants (however, the economic weight of China is unquestionably higher than that of its neighbor, Russia) feel quite comfortable at a certain distance from each other. China’s economic power will continue to grow, and Russia needs to expand its advantages (natural resources, agriculture, military and civilian technologies) to maintain influence in the region. In addition, the process of connecting the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) with China’s One Belt and One Road initiative will serve as an incentive for the Russian economy - extensive infrastructure projects will connect China and East Asia with Europe by land, air and sea (Northern Sea Route).

In general, the political dialogue between Russia and China is very intensive. The leaders of the two countries meet at least five times a year. There is also a mechanism for regular meetings of the heads of government of Russia and China. Consultations on strategic security are underway. A course has been taken to deepen trade and economic cooperation (primarily on infrastructure and energy), as well as military-technical and humanitarian cooperation. The countries have intensified cooperation for the development of the Far East. Since 2010, China has been Russia’s largest trading partner. The two states are also intensively developing cooperation in such areas as education, science and culture.

Russia-India: strategic partnership in action

Russia has accumulated 70 years of experience in mutually beneficial partnerships with India. Diplomatic relations between the USSR and India were established in 1947. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia and India signed the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in 1993. This became the founding document of the bilateral relations. In 2000, the two countries signed the Declaration on Strategic Partnership.

Today, India is actively developing, strengthening its economic and military-political potential. Together with China and Russia, it is becoming one of the main driving forces in the area of Greater Eurasia (in fairness, Europe should also be counted among these centers of power). Considering India’s lightning-fast rapprochement with the United States, fueled by geopolitical ambitions to build the Indo-Pacific regional initiative and the desire of the United States to gain a firm foothold in the Asian Pacific region, Russia needs to build comprehensive, privileged partnership with India. High density of political contacts is the best way to strengthen bilateral dialogue.

The leaders of Russia and India meet regularly, both on bilateral summits and "on the margins" of multilateral forums.

Military-technical, trade-economic and scientific-technical cooperation is actively developing. Russia is an important partner of India in the development of peaceful nuclear energy. The countries are developing cooperation in oil and gas sector and implementing large-scale infrastructure projects. They also pay special attention to the development of intercultural dialogue.

India-China: growing ties

Although the diplomatic relations of modern India and China were established in 1950, the history of cultural and economic cooperation of the two most ancient civilizations dates back over 2,000 years (the Great Silk Road).

Today, India and China are the two fastest growing centers of power. Both countries are large players, each of which is seeking to occupy a leading position in the region. There will hence be healthy competition and emerging territorial disputes.

In the late 1980s, the countries embarked on a course of building up diplomatic and economic ties. Today, despite the opposition of Washington, India and China are developing a strategic partnership aimed at peace and prosperity.

However, the geopolitical ambitions of India, which positions itself as an Indo-Pacific power, its close ties with the United States and its allies among the maritime powers - Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia, and others - can lead to an imbalance in the region, where the situation is already very unstable.

India’s choice in favor of this or that alliance (RIC or “a diamond of democracies”) will be crucial not only for Eurasia, but for the whole architecture of international relations. Today, sustainable development of the Eurasian region is the key to sustainable global security is the stability. However, it is known for certain that India will continue to develop a multi-vector foreign policy, and one has to live with it.

It is in the interests of Russia that the formal RIC could become a permanent consultative mechanism on security, stability and sustainable development issues throughout the Eurasian region. The ongoing tripartite strategic dialogue will enable Russia to ease tensions between its two largest Asian partners. For this purpose, it is necessary to step up interaction in four main areas acting in the spirit of openness, solidarity, mutual understanding, trust and respect: regional and global security, economic development, exchange of experience in the areas of mutual interest, cooperation in countering new challenges and threats.

What is on the agenda?

Traditionally, the negotiations in the RIC format have a very extensive agenda. The parties freely and frankly exchange views on the situation in Venezuela, Syria and Afghanistan, discuss the Iranian nuclear program and arms control, the situation on the Korean Peninsula and other issues.

As for the economy, the countries are striving together to protect the principles of fair competition in world trade and finance, to promote the formation of the most open system of international economic relations, free from protectionism and politically motivated restrictions, to develop integration associations.

In particular, at the recent meeting in Uchzhen, the Foreign Ministers of Russia and China discussed the details of the Russian-Chinese "road map" on the Korean settlement. Today, even Washington admits the need for this joint initiative of Russia and China. The ministers also discussed preparations for the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Beijing for taking part in the Belt and Road Forum and participation of Chinese leader Xi Jinping as the main guest at St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.

In turn, Russia and India discussed the schedule of upcoming bilateral contacts and the preparation of Indian participation in the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok.

The three parties made an important decision for the development of RIC – they agreed to continue trilateral coordination at other levels and, if necessary, to create additional interaction mechanisms. In particular, they agreed to consider creation of a mechanism for regular meetings of the Defense Ministers of the three countries. This, however, does not mean that RIC will turn into a military-political alliance. The Chinese party even proposed going further by developing the RIC-plus format. The next meeting of the foreign ministers of Russia, India and China will be held in Russia.