RIC meet: Foreign ministers meet to boost Asia-Pacific relations

Exactly a month after officials from India, Australia, the US and Japan sat down for talks on cooperation in the “Indo-Pacific”—seen as a possible security framework among the four against a rising China—Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj will meet her counterparts from Russia and China for discussions on deepening coordination in the Asia-Pacific region.

Originally scheduled for April, the RIC meeting was postponed as Wang did not confirm his participation, with speculation rife that he had put off his visit to India to protest New Delhi’s decision to allow the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to travel to Arunachal Pradesh.

The RIC meeting comes as Russia and China are seen developing close bilateral ties against the backdrop of the two developing tensions with the US for separate reasons. In contrast, there seems to be growing convergence between New Delhi and Washington after decades of being seen on opposite sides. On the other hand, ties between India and Russia, once seen as partners, seem stressed given the growing warmth in India’s relations with the US.

The RIC foreign ministers’ meet also comes as India, Japan, US and Australia seem to have restarted a dialogue—abandoned about a decade ago due to Chinese displeasure—aimed at meeting the challenges posed by a rising China and its increasing presence and influence in the Indo-Pacific region, i.e. a large geographic swathe stretching between the US west coast to Australia to India and Africa. China has been warily eyeing the resumption of the “quadrilateral exchanges” while stating its hope that the group and its actions were not directed against Beijing.

According to officials in New Delhi, Swaraj and her counterparts are likely to discuss ways to broaden consultations among the three on the Asia-Pacific region. Officials from Russia, India and China had met in Beijing last December for an “in-depth exchange of views on the situation in the Asia-Pacific region, foreign policy towards Asia, regional security architecture, coordination within regional and multilateral fora, anti-terrorism and other acute, topical regional issues

Other issues likely to come up from India’s side include naming Pakistan-based terror groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed in the joint communique to be adopted at the Russia-India-China meeting for terrorist activities against India. Swaraj could also raise the subject of a Chinese block at the UN to India’s attempts to get the chief of Jaish-e-Mohammed group, the Pakistan-based Maulana Masood Azhar, declared a terrorist by the world body. “This will be in the context of the three countries agreeing on the need to work together to defeat the scourge of terrorism,” the second official cited above said.

Among other issues seen as a priority for India that Swaraj was likely to bring up was China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a strand of which i.e. the China-Pakistan-Economic Corridor (CPEC), passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. India objects to this as it claims all of Kashmir as part of its territory.

India is also expected to discuss, mainly with Russia, the fast-tracking of the 7,200km-long International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) linking India, Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia with Europe. Earlier this month, Iran inaugurated phase one of the Chabahar port, seen as a game changer for India which has been seeking an alternate route for access to landlocked Afghanistan and Central Asia bypassing Pakistan that has refused to allow Indian goods to cross its territory for onward travel to Afghanistan and Central Asia.

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