Limitations of Russia-India-China triangle
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 24 Nov , 2010

The second reason from Russian point of view is that the three countries have problems with Islamic militants. India fights border problems everyday against radical Islamic fighters infiltrating from Pakistan into Kashmir. Moscow is concerned about the growth of Islamic fundamentalism in the five Central Asian Republics of the former Soviet Union (which Russia still sees as its sphere of influence). China’s problem with Islamic guerrillas focuses on the Muslim Uighar separatists in Xinjiang, an area of China rich in mineral resources.

The second reason from Russian point of view is that the three countries have problems with Islamic militants.

The third common interest is the arms trade. China and India account for nearly 70 percent of Russia’s arms exports. But the problem is that at times both India and China demand same weapon systems with same features. India has always enjoyed a special status as an importer of Russian arms. Russia sends weapons of more value and substance, weapons which are not only latest but also those which are not even commissioned into the Russian armed forces. Obviously, India will not like China to get the same features and facilities from the Russians. It is all the more so when there is every chance of some of such weapons finding their way to Pakistan. In that sense, by suggesting the concept of a Russia-China-India triangle, Moscow wants to appease somewhat the Indian sensitivities, with the hope that the idea will remove mutual suspicions between Delhi and Beijing.

But will the RIC process succeed? It is extremely doubtful that it will, and, that, in turn, is the reason why one does not see great virtues in India showing enthusiasm about the “triangle”. From Indian point of view, for any triangular relationship, China has to vacate the countervailing strategic space in favour of Pakistan in South Asia by pulling back from first facilitating and then using Pakistan’s nuclear and missile build-up as leverage against India. In other words, since China is part of the strategic nexus with Pakistan aimed at India, how can India be part of a coalition in which two of its potential antagonists are inter-twined?

Secondly, given the anti-American overtone of the “triangle” concept, India may find it difficult to be associated with it, particularly when over the last few years Indo-U.S. relations have witnessed unprecedented improvements, the Pakistan-factor notwithstanding. In fact, even China will not like any ganging up against the U.S. for similar reasons. All told, the Chinese economy is crucially dependent on the American market. Whatever the ideologically oriented pro-China experts may say, the fact remains that China is excessively dependent on the international market both for resources and revenue-generation. Just imagine what will happen if the Americans, particularly American-Chinese, stop investing in China and the US refuses to open its markets for the Chinese goods.

The Russians are not comfortable with the growing Chinese activities in Central Asia, which Moscow always considers to be falling under its sphere of vital interests.

In fact, former Indian foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal, who also was Indian ambassador in Moscow, makes a lot of sense when he argues that the RIC dialogue may not have as much promise as originally anticipated because “the validity of most of the premises underlying it has been shaken.” Now that the United States’ sole superpower status has waned as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the 2008 financial crisis, there is not as much need for Russia, India and China to come together to balance the global power structure.

Even otherwise, though Moscow advocates for a durable and long-term framework of shared interests with India and China, unlike Indo-Russian relationship, the Sino-Russian link is controversial among influential Russian policymaking elites. Russia shares a long border with China and a long history of often bitter and complex relations. Besieged with a growing problem of demographic decline, Russia fears that Siberia and its far east would soon be over-run by migrant Chinese labour. This fear is genuine as anybody familiar with Chinese history will admit that Chinese territorial claims all over Asia often followed its emigrants.

Likewise, the Russians are not comfortable with the growing Chinese activities in Central Asia, which Moscow always considers to be falling under its sphere of vital interests. Besides, it is also felt in Russian strategic circles that China, with ex-Soviet Union scientists and engineers working in its defence facilities, is producing weapons by reverse-engineering the Russian products and exporting them in international market, particularly in Pakistan and North Korea.

Viewed thus, the RIC process, though a grand idea, has its obvious limitations.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Prakash Nanda

is a journalist and editorial consultant for Indian Defence Review. He is also the author of “Rediscovering Asia: Evolution of India’s Look-East Policy.”

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