Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 108

As Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met his Chinese and Indian counterparts Li Zhaoxing and Natwar Singh in Vladivostok on June 2, talk resurfaced about the three countries combining forces into a Moscow-Beijing-New Delhi axis, an alliance of three nuclear-armed countries that are home to some 2.5 billion people.

The “multipolar world” concept and “multilateralism” were highlighted at the meeting. “Russia, India, and China have joint approaches to global issues, based on international law and principles of multipolarity,” Lavrov said. “This is our shared opinion” (Itar-Tass, June 2).

“We think that the most efficient means to safeguard security in the modern world are democratization of international relations, the principle of multilateralism in solving international issues, and boosting the role of the UN,” Lavrov observed (Vostok Media, June 2). He refrained from naming the unilateral power, the United States, yet the implication was clear when he juxtaposed “multipolar” and “multilateralist” policies against perceived U.S. unilateralism.

The foreign ministers also discussed multilateral approaches to global issues, UN reforms, including expansion of the Security Council, as well as ways to combat international terrorism and organized crime. Indian officials said the three countries attached special importance to strengthening mechanisms to jointly combat terrorism and trafficking in narcotics (PTI, June 1).

Lavrov also noted, “Although it is the fourth informal Russian-Chinese-Indian foreign ministers’ meeting, for the first time it comes as a stand-alone meeting and not on the sidelines of any other international forum” (RIA-Novosti, June 2). Previous meetings between the three foreign ministers took place twice on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly (2002 and 2003) and in Almaty in 2004, when they gathered for a meeting on confidence-building measures in Asia.

A “strategic triangle” among Russia, India, and China was first suggested by then-Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov back in 1998. Indeed, some Russian media outlets have dubbed the idea as “Primakov’s Triangle.” The concept was dismissed by Beijing at the time, while New Delhi remained non-committal.

However, in December 2002 Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to China and India, and high-level rhetoric about the need for greater cooperation also included thinly veiled anti-Western pronouncements and calls for a “multipolar world,” a mantra for counterbalancing America’s global dominance.

Cooperation among Russia, India, and China “would make a great contribution to global security,” Putin announced in New Delhi in December 2004. The Kremlin leader accused the West of pursuing a dictatorial foreign policy and setting double standards on terrorism. Putin and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh issued a joint call for “multipolar world” and greater role of the United Nations. The Russian leader also backed India’s bid for a UN Security Council seat.

The idea of a trilateral axis has recently gained steam. Cooperation among China, India, and Russia would help democratize international relations and safeguard world peace, security, and stability, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao told journalists during a visit to India in April 2005. The three countries share “identical and similar” views on many issues, Wen said. Furthermore, China, India, and Russia are all “influential” countries and China was “positive towards trilateral cooperation,” Wen said. This “cooperation and coordination” is by no means an alliance, and it is not targeted at any other country (PTI, April 12).

So far, the “strategic triangle” concept is yet to be formalized. However, Russia, China, and India are understood to have a number of converging interests that could add substance to axis talk.

Meanwhile, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has been seen as a potentially convenient forum for the trilateral axis. Now the SCO includes China, Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, but India has been touted as a potential candidate for membership.

After a separate meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Li Zhaoxing, Lavrov said they had agreed to redouble efforts to “combat terrorism in Central Asia and prevent destabilization” in the region through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

The SCO was originally intended to bind together Russia, China, and the Central Asian states in order to balance America’s growing influence in Central Eurasia. Its secretariat is to be based in Beijing, reportedly at China’s insistence. The group has drafted the Shanghai anti-terror convention and urged the United Nations to play a major role in efforts to eradicate global terrorism.

There is a motivation in all three capitals to cooperate on strategic, security, and economic issues. But aside from calls for a “multipolar world,” the idea of an alliance seemingly is yet to evolve into a clear-cut strategy. The would-be “strategic triangle” is still short of an implementation system, the prerequisite to ensuring the future success of the troika.

In the meantime, the troika does not want to give the impression that the three countries are ganging up against the West. “A strategic partnership is emerging between our countries but it is not directed against any other nation,” Li Zhaoxing said (Vostok Media, June 2).

The Russian Foreign Ministry also said in a statement that the three-party talks among Russia, India, and China are not directed against any particular country. The trilateral cooperation highlights economic issues, since Russia, India, and China are among the world’s most dynamic economies (Itar-Tass, June 1).

The Vladivostok talks reportedly highlighted economic issues such as transportation, energy, and trade. The ministers also pledged to boost economic cooperation in energy, transportation, technology, and agriculture. They also agreed to hold a trilateral meeting of leading business executives in New Delhi in 2006 (Vostok Media, June 2).