NEW DELHI: The foreign ministers of Russia, India and China (RIC) will meet in New Delhi for the 15th RIC meeting on Monday. Originally scheduled for April, the meeting was postponed due to the India-China military standoff at Doklam. This will be the seniormost Chinese official to visit India after the 70-day standoff was defused in late August.
The meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China Wang Yi and India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj comes at a time when India’s increasing engagement with US President Donald Trump’s administration is being watched warily by both Moscow and Beijing.
In November, the US, Japan, Australia and India decided to revive the Quadilateral initiative, which Beijing sees as an attempt to counter Chinese attempts to check increasing Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.
India’s refusal to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative citing sovereignty issues has also ruffled feathers in Beijing. Then there is Beijing’s refusal to allow to India to become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group. Sources in New Delhi said the RIC meeting was aimed at emphasising India’s ‘strategic autonomy’, and that Swaraj would press China to agree to a ‘forward looking’ bilateral relationship.
While Moscow, India’s traditional supplier of weapons, is watching New Delhi’s increasing reliance on US systems and armaments with concern, Russia’s recent military outreach to Pakistan has raised flags in New Delhi. This includes not just sales of weapons, but joint exercises, although Russia has been consistently stressing that the exercises were aimed at countering terror, particularly in the bordering Central Asian states.
While all three nations are officially opposed to terrorism, their interpretations of what terrorism means do not match. China’s constant blocking of India’s attempts to get Pakistan’s Masood Azhar, declared a terrorist by the UN is a sticking point.
As a senior external affairs ministry official put it, “While all these issues are likely to be discussed candidly during the trilateral as well as the bilateral meetings with the Indian External Affairs Minister, many of them may not find mention in the joint communiqué released after the event. Nevertheless, this meeting is significant for it allows us to clear the air with two important nations, and understand each other’s views and concerns.”