New Delhi: Even as Russia, India and China talked optimistically about synergy in connectivity projects and combatting terror, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov batted for India to join China’s belt and road initiative, while Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi warned against “cliques”, a reference to recent ‘quadrilateral’ meeting.
The 15th ministerial meeting of the trilateral forum was held in New Delhi on Monday, which showcased the pet themes of the three countries.
External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj made it clear that India’s main priority on the diplomatic sphere continued to be terrorism.
“While discussing terrorism, I put across my view that significant rise in acts of terrorism by terrorist organisations like Taliban, Daesh (ISIS), Al-Qaeda, and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba directly undermine international peace and security and endanger ongoing efforts to strengthen the global economy and ensure sustainable growth and development. India strongly recommends a comprehensive policy for dealing with global terrorism,” she said in her statement after the meeting, which was followed by a lunch.
She said that the policy should “include dealing with extremism, countering religious fanaticism, preventing recruitment of terrorists, disrupting terrorist movements, stopping all sources for financing of terrorism, stopping flow of FTFs (Foreign Terrorist Fighters), dismantling terrorist infrastructure, and countering terrorist propaganda through the internet, but we should not limit ourselves to these only.”
While the joint communique had most of the aspects of fighting terrorism flagged by Swaraj, there was no explicit naming of LeT. Instead, the three agreed to condemn all forms of terrorism and “take decisive and concerted actions against globally proscribed terrorists and terror entities”. LeT has a been a listed as a terror group by UNSC since 2015. The joint statement did refer to Islamic State and Al-Qaida in reference to the situation in Middle East.
Both Lavrov and Wang had also made supportive noises for combatting terrorism in their media statements.
Swaraj specifically raised the recent improvement in India’s ranking on the World Bank Ease of Doing Business index. “I have invited China and Russia for a more intensive trade and economic partnership so that they can take advantage of the economic opportunities available here,” she said.
Since the meeting was held just a week after United States announced plans to shift embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the collective pronouncement by the three foreign ministers on the Israel-Palestine peace process, held special significance.
“To achieve peace and stability in the Middle East, we reiterate the need for a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the basis of the relevant UN Resolutions, the Arab peace initiative and previous agreements between the parties through negotiations aimed at creating an independent, viable, territorially contiguous Palestinian State living side by side in peace and security with Israel within mutually agreed and internationally recognised borders,” said the 2017 joint statement.
There was no explicit reference to East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine as in previous statements, but mention of UN resolutions and previous agreements usually means that the nations point out that the status of the holy city has to be finally decided by the negotiating parties.
However, this year, the three countries also had a bit of an advice for the Palestinians: “We also emphasise intra-Palestinian unity as an important factor contributing to the Israeli-Palestinian settlement.”
India’s signing on this position on this trilateral document is a much more elaborate statement than its response to US’s decision. “India’s position on Palestine is independent and consistent. It is shaped by our views and interests, and not determined by any third country,” ministry of external affairs spokesperson Ravesh Kumar had said on December 7.
The new regional issue which was raised during the talks was the situation in the Korean peninsula, where the regime has undertaken several missile and nuclear tests recently, even as the United States President Donald Trump has been urging China to take a more central role in resolution.
“We express deep concern over the ongoing tension on the Korean Peninsula as a result of the nuclear and ballistic missile programmes of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” said the joint statement.
After the talks, the issue was touched upon only by the Russian foreign minister publicly. “We shared assessment on Korean peninsula, which has been quiet tense. It is not appropriate to exacerbate as it can be transferred from propaganda state to military state. There is no military solution,” he told reporters.
There was also discussion on connectivity projects, with joint communique welcomed “synergy various initiatives to improve regional connectivity in Asia”.
Meanwhile, at a public lecture in the afternoon, Lavrov urged India to join the Belt and Road initiative, describing the concept as “very interesting”.
India had been the only country, besides Bhutan, to stay out of the BRI flagship summit earlier this year – signalling its concerns over the strategic aspect of the connectivity project. India had also objected to BRI’s sub-project, China Pakistan Economic Corridor, going through territories disputed by India.
“I am 100% convinced that India has enough very smart diplomats and politicians to find a way which will allow it to benefit from this process and at the same time not to sacrifice your position,” the Russian foreign minister said.
Russia and China also seemed to be on the same page with regards to the recent official-level meeting between India, United States, Japan and Australia.
In his media statement, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi had made an explicit caution against “spheres of influence” and “cliques”. He said, “…oppose hegemony and power politics, disagree with the sphere of influence and cliques and promote the democratisation of international relations.”
Lavrov also had a similar view. “We believe that sustainable security architecture in the Asia Pacific region cannot be achieved through bloc arrangement and is only possible through an open ended collective basis,” he said at the lecture organised by Delhi-based think tank Vivekananda International Foundation.
The second meeting of officials from Russia, India and China on Asia-Pacific will be held later this month.
Incidentally, the joint statement said that principles United Nations Law of the Sea should be the basis for “freedom of navigation and overflight rights”. However, there was no mention of South China Sea as in the 2016 communique.
Earlier before the talks, India and China held bilateral talks, which Swaraj described as “frank and forward looking”.
“Foreign minister Wang Yi and I agreed that we should further strengthen our mutual trust to develop a better understanding between the two parties. And it will be better to meet again and without agenda, which will help us to expand our mutual understanding,” she said.