In another time and another place, a summit of Indian, Russian and Chinese leaders would probably have evoked visions of a ‘grand alliance’ to check American dominance of international affairs. But it would be naïve to paint in similar colours the parleys that External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee had the other day with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and their Chinese counterpart Li Zhaoxing in New Delhi. As the joint statement issued at the end of the talks clarified, the trilateral cooperation is “not directed against the interests of any other country and is, on the contrary, intended to promote international harmony and understanding”.
In any case, the new realities of the marketplace will define any strategic New Delhi-Moscow-Beijing axis of the kind first mooted in 1996 by former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov. No wonder the major focus of the latest summit was apparently on consultations to promote business, trade and energy security among the three countries. That said, however, the loud thinking on the need for ‘multilateral diplomacy’ is obviously a neoned reference to the view that India, Russia and China could emerge as a counterbalance to Washington’s unilateral decision-making. It is obviously to emphasise this that the three countries have pointedly called for “reforming the UN” so that it could tackle conflicts between and within States, and the threat posed by international terrorism more effectively.
These three States have common interests (accounting for 40 per cent of the world’s population, a fifth of its economy and more than half of its nuclear warheads) and concerns (like those relating to Islamic terrorism) that make it hard to dismiss the idea peremptorily. It’s no secret that Russia needs the markets of China and India just as the latter need the great energy resources of Russia, which has been increasingly assertive on the world stage under Vladimir Putin, who has presided over Russia’s oil-fuelled economic growth to restore confidence and a measure of the clout it lost when the Soviet Union collapsed. So any move to use the collective strength of these countries to bring sense and stability to the international order should be welcomed.