Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 34

On Wednesday, February 14, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with his Chinese and Indian counterparts Li Zhaoxing and Natwar Singh in New Delhi, where the three countries pledged to contribute to global peace, security, and stability. In a joint statement issued after the meeting, the ministers declared, “Trilateral cooperation was not directed against the interests of any other country.” However, this denial appeared to serve as recognition of the somewhat controversial character of the trilateral talks, which still could be regarded as an affront by the West.

The three sides highlighted the importance of reforms in the United Nations, including the UN Security Council. China and Russia also backed Indian efforts to play a greater role in the United Nations and encouraged India to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as an observer, according to the joint statement.

“China, India, and Russia have developed friendly and regular cooperation on international and regional issues,” said Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing at a subsequent press conference. Trilateral ties would include interaction in international organizations such as the SCO and the United Nations, Li said, adding that the trilateral cooperation would be open, inclusive, and transparent.

The three countries agreed to coordinate action against international terrorism, illegal drug trafficking, and trans-national organized crime, the joint statement said. The ministers also urged their business unions to hold a trilateral business forum within a year. The next trilateral foreign ministers’ meeting would be held in China, according to the statement (RIA-Novosti, Xinhua, February 14).

The meeting followed President Vladimir Putin’s high-profile visit to India in January, when Russia signed deals to build nuclear power stations in India and discussed further supplies of Russian weapons to the subcontinent (see EDM, January 29).

Russian and Chinese official media inevitably hailed the trilateral ties. Relations among the three influential countries are becoming increasingly important, RIA-Novosti commented. However, the news agency described the trilateral economic partnership as a “failure,” due to low volumes of trade: $30 billion between Russia and China in 2006, $20 billion between China and India, and $3 billion between Russia and India (RIA-Novosti, February 15).

The fundamental interests of the three countries do not conflict, while some remaining differences should not hinder the trilateral relationship, China Daily commented. The meeting came as a step forward in boosting trilateral cooperation in an increasingly small world, it observed (China Daily, February 15).

Furthermore, Beijing opted to reiterate that the trilateral ties would not harm anyone. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Jiang Yu, emphasized in a statement that the three-party talks among Russia, India, and China were not directed against any fourth country (Interfax, Xinhua, February 15).

Russian officials sounded even more specific, saying they did not intend to alienate the West. Cooperation among Russia, China, and India is not directed against any other country, and it is definitely not anti-American, said Andrei Kokoshin, head of the CIS affairs committee of the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament. It also does not amount to an attempt to create a grouping of three major Asian powers, because all three countries advocate the democratization of global politics and the world economy, he said.

However, Moscow made it clear it would not accept the role of energy supplier to the booming economies of China and India. Trilateral economic cooperation should not involve only hydrocarbon supplies from Russia to China and India; it should also involve nuclear power, Kokoshin argued (Interfax, February 15).

The foreign ministers of the three countries have met four times in the past — twice on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in 2002 and 2003 and then Almaty in 2004 when they gathered for a meeting of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA). Lavrov, Li Zhaoxing, and Natwar Singh last met in Russia’s Far East port city of Vladivostok in June 2005.

These meetings tend to entail speculation about the three countries drawing together to form a Moscow-Beijing-New Delhi axis, an alliance of three countries that together are home to two-fifths of the global population and nearly half of the world’s nuclear warheads.

Then-Russian prime minister Yevgeny Primakov first suggested a “strategic triangle” among Russia, India, and China back in 1998. Therefore Russian media outlets have dubbed the idea “Primakov’s Triangle.” Yet apart from calls for a “multi-polar world,” a mantra for counterbalancing Washington’s perceived global dominance, the “triangle” discussions have produced few concrete results.

Notably, during their Vladivostok meeting nearly two years ago Lavrov, Li, and Singh suggested sponsoring a trilateral business forum. However, that idea still remains on paper only, as businesses from all three countries appear to be slow in following the latest political pronouncements.