After a year of hostility, capped by China’s decision to block a UN ban on Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) Masood Azhar, the two countries may yet have a chance to end 2017 on a positive note in the form of a Russia-India-China (RIC) trilateral dialogue next month. The 3 countries have finally zeroed in on – after 8 months of negotiations – December 11 as the likely date for the next round of RIC talks or what would be the 15th joint meeting of the foreign ministers of Russia, India and China.
The trilateral was supposed to be held in March-April this year but got delayed because China was upset, even though it never officially said so, with India’s decision to allow Dalai Lama to visit Arunachal Pradesh in April.
“All 3 sides seem okay with December 11 as the date for the tripartite dialogue and we hope to make a formal announcement soon,” said an official source who did not wish to be quoted. The near finalization of the date is a big relief for India as it was India’s turn to hold the talks this year and it didn’t want 2017 to end without the dialogue having taken place.
Cross-border terrorism again is likely to dominate India’s agenda for the talks with foreign minister Sushma Swaraj likely to strongly convey in a high-voltage meeting to her Chinese and Russian counterparts, Wang Yi and Sergey Lavrov respectively, the government’s deep disappointment over the failure of UN to proscribe Azhar.
India will look at Russia for support as it seeks to ensure that the joint communique to be issued after the meeting goes beyond just a perfunctory mention of the need to fight terrorism in all its forms. Russia, in fact, helped India name Pakistan based terror groups like JeM and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in the Xiamen Brics declaration this year despite China having blocked a similar move at the previous Brics summit in Goa.
Beijing though, for the second year in succession, blocked an international proposal earlier this month to list Azhar by the UNSC sanctions committee drawing a sharp response from India that such “double standards and selective approaches” will undermine the fight against terrorism.
After China pulled out of the meeting in April this year, India had proposed that the RIC meeting be held in May end. While Russia agreed to the proposal, China continued to block the meeting citing scheduling issue. After the Xiamen Brics summit, Moscow was hopeful that China would review its position on Azhar too. Russia had even expressed hope that the Xiamen Declaration, which had named LeT and JeM, would lead to more action against such terror groups.
The RIC meeting in December promises to be one of the most watched diplomatic events this year in light of China’s insistence on defending Azhar and also the Doklam military standoff. The 2016 joint communique issued after the meeting in Moscow, while it spoke about the need to fully implement UNSC resolutions against ISIL, didn’t mention cross-border terrorism or the activities of groups like LeT and JeM. Sources said that the situation in Afghanistan, where Moscow is supporting talks with Taliban, will be discussed in detail too.
The last joint communique also ran into some controversy here as it said that UNCLOS related disputes should be addressed through “negotiations and agreements between the parties concerned” . This was seen as a concession by India to China on South China Sea disputes as it seemed preclude international arbitration. China had quickly latched onto it claiming that all 3 countries had the same position on these disputes. India may find it difficult to approve a similar formulation on this occasion though.