Diplomatic Enclave: United Front

Russia, India and Chinese foreign ministers met in Delhi for their 15th trilateral dialogue where they agreed to step up cooperation to counter terrorism in all its forms, prevent radicalisation, and stop sources of terror financing. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj also agreed to strengthen the trilateral dialogue for consultation and coordination on regional and global issues of mutual interest.

While the joint statement had a strong comment on terrorism, it did not identify any terrorist organisations unlike the BRICS summit held in China in September this year, which had listed the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad. Though it is the host country that has the main task of drafting the joint statement, it usually requires negotiating to bring it line with the majority view. Not mentioning the terrorist groups indicates a rethinking on the part of China and Russia on naming the Pakistan based groups. In their press statements, Swaraj referred to the two terror outfits, while the Russian and Chinese ministers spoke only of eliminating breeding grounds of terrorism.

The trilateral format bringing together India, China and Russia had appeared an awkward construct when Russia had first proposed the dialogue at a time when global politics were unipolar. Moscow persuaded China and India to join in the first meeting in the Russian capital in 2001. The grouping did not make much headway though it provided the three countries the opportunity to meet at regular intervals. Geopolitics has seen a vast change in this period. Russia and India had been the strong allies when the trilateral dialogue had started with both countries having their differences with China. The US attempts to isolate Russia and impose sanctions over the Ukraine crisis helped China and Russia forge strong political and economic ties while India’s growing closeness to the US has had its effect on India-Russia relations.

But the trilateral dialogue allows the three large emerging economies to articulate and find convergence in their views on issues of interest, which may be at variance to western views. It also provides the opportunity for the three foreign ministers to meet on a regular basis.

The meeting had a particular significance for India-China relations; it was due to be held earlier this year, but with the confrontation at Doklam, the Chinese side did not respond to the invitation. Both India and China have made clear their desire to move forward after the damaging effect of tense 73-day border face-off this summer on their bilateral relations. A separate meeting between Swaraj and Wang Yi was described as ‘positive’. Wang said that the border crisis had put “severe strain” on the bilateral relationship while Swaraj said that a peaceful border was an essential prerequisite for smooth development of bilateral relations.

Speaking at a public event, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang said: “We believe that as long as we continue to engage in in-depth strategic communication and promptly dispel strategic misgivings, the strategic value of China-India cooperation will speak for itself and there will be prospect of the dragon and the elephant dancing together.”

Both Ministers agreed to strengthen strategic communication at all levels.

Giving the first Alexander Kadakin memorial lecture named after the long-term Russian envoy who died in office in Delhi earlier this year, Russian Minister Lavrov urged India to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative. He hoped India would find a way out to benefit from the BRI without sacrificing its position on the issues it had flagged. India has objected to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is part of the BRI, as it passes through Pakistan occupied Kashmir.

On several other issues the three Ministers found a general consonance in their views. Regarding Palestine, the joint statement said “the need for a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the basis of the relevant UN Resolutions, the Arab peace initiative and previous agreements between the parties through negotiations aimed at creating an independent, viable, territorially contiguous Palestinian State living side by side in peace and security with Israel within mutually agreed and internationally recognised borders.”

The statement was much stronger than the Indian stance articulated after US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Though the statement did not specifically mention Jerusalem, it reiterated all UN resolutions and previous agreements.

On Afghanistan an issue of concern to all three countries, they favoured an Afghan led and Afghan-owned peace process and referred to the importance of regional multilateral organisations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the Moscow format, the Heart of Asia-Istanbul process, the Kabul process and the Regional Economic Conference on Afghanistan.

There was no mention of the recently announced American strategy on Afghanistan while the Russian Minister refuted American allegations that Moscow was arming the Taliban.

Shubha Singh