RIC, a triangle that is still important

Context:  India attended a (virtual) meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Russia, India and China (RIC) in the last week of June 2020.

Why was the RIC meeting significant?

  • As there were border tensions with China, it was strongly argued that India should further align its foreign policy westwards (towards US, Europe)
  • A RIC meeting seemed incongruous in this setting.

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Was there a joint statement post RIC meeting?

No, there was any joint statement but each country made individual statements

  • China called for opposing bullying practices, rejecting power politics and supporting the rule of law in international relations (an irony given its recent actions)
  • Russia criticised unilateral coercive measures to settle scores with geopolitical rivals and topple regimes. 
  • India emphasised that for a durable world order, major powers should respect international law and recognise the legitimate interest of partners.

Brief Origins of RIC

  • RIC dialogue commenced in the early 2000s, the three countries were positioning themselves for a transition from a unipolar to a multipolar world order. 
  • Though it was not an anti-U.S. construct; all three countries considered their relationship with the US an essential to their global ambitions.
  • The RIC shared some non-West (as distinct from anti-West) perspectives on the global order, such as an emphasis on sovereignty and territorial integrity, impatience with discourse on social policies and opposition to regime change from abroad. 
  • The initial years of the RIC dialogue coincided with an upswing in India’s relations with Russia and China
  • RIC’s support for democratisation of the global economic and financial architecture later moved to the agenda of BRIC (with the addition of Brazil).

Simultaneous Surge in India-U.S. ties — Reason are:

  • Necessity for India: A landmark civil nuclear deal and a burgeoning defence relationship with US met India’s objective of diversifying military acquisitions away from a near-total dependence on Russia.
  • Necessity for USA: Likewise, when China was rapidly emerging as a challenger to its global pre-eminence, the U.S. saw value in partnering with a democratic India in Asia.
  • Deteriorating Indo-China relations: China went back on the 2005 agreement, launched the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, and expanded its military and economic presence in the Indian Ocean lead India to shift its focus away from RIC & towards US-EU
  • New Geopolitics of Russia: As U.S.-Russia relations imploded in 2014 (after the accession of Crimea), Russia’s pushback against the U.S. included cultivating the Taliban in Afghanistan and enlisting Pakistan’s support for it (not in India’s interest)
  • Growing Russia–China axis: 
  • The western campaign to isolate Russia drove it into a much closer embrace of China — particularly in defence cooperation
  • There is an Informal Russia-China understanding that Russia handles the politico-security issues in the Eurasian region and China extends economic support. 

Concerns for RIC

  1. Strengthening India- US axis & Russia-China-Pakistan axis is not aligned with the interests of RIC grouping that leads to weakening of the group’s significance
  2. Differing Perception of Indo-Pacific by each member
  • For India, it is a geographic space of economic and security importance, in which a cooperative order should prevent the dominance of any external power. 
  • China sees our Indo-Pacific initiatives as part of a U.S.-led policy of containing China. 
  • Russia’s Foreign Ministry sees the Indo-Pacific as an American ploy to draw India and Japan into a military alliance against China and Russia. 

Way Ahead for India

  • Diluting Russia-China Axis: Activation of a Chennai-Vladivostok maritime corridor may help persuade Russia that its interests in the Pacific are compatible with our interest in diluting Chinese dominance in the Indo-Pacific
  • Avoid Disengagement with China: The recent developments with China should accelerate India’s efforts to bridge the bilateral asymmetries, disengagement is not an option.
  • Cautious Engagement with US: Fast-track partnership with the U.S is not a silver bullet. National security cannot be fully outsourced to another country. India should retain its strategic autonomy & avoid cold-war era type alliance with USA

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