June 04, 2005

Russia, India, China: trilateral meeting achieves unexpected success

VLADIVOSTOK (RIA Novosti political commentator Dmitry Kosyrev).

The June 2 meeting of the Russian, Chinese, and Indian foreign ministers that took place in the Russian Far East, was seen as an international-level event by analysts following the intricate relationships within the triangle.

However, the meeting appeared to be more than that, it was a tremendous success.

Foreign ministers Sergei Lavrov, Natwar Singh, and Li Zhaoxing, whose meeting took place at the assembly hall on the Pacific coast 19 kilometers away from Vladivostok, agreed to draft an agenda for cooperation in the energy, transport, high-tech, and agricultural spheres.

The ministers said businessmen from the three countries would convene in India early next year. The chambers of commerce will most likely organize the meeting. They also discussed the reform of the United Nations and developments in the Middle East and Central Asia, the places where issues related to oil and natural gas production, terrorism, and social tensions merge into one difficult knot. Once again the meeting showed the three governments shared approaches to those problems.

Significantly, the Indian minister said the three men got on very well. Those were more than polite words. Indeed, Russia has maintained friendly relations with both India and China, whereas relations between the latter two have not been very simple.

Recent rapprochement between China and India, above all, in trade, which has already reached $7.6 billion, explains the Vladivostok meeting's success. The two countries have stepped up cooperation although their dispute over a 2,000-kilometer-long section of the border and territories with an overall area of 125,000 square kilometers has not been settled. Territorial disputes between Russia and Japan or between Japan and China look insignificant compared with the lands claimed by India and China.

It is not so far clear when and how the conflict over Aksai Chin, China's disputed part of Kashmir, and Arunachal Pradesh, an area administered by India and claimed by China, will be resolved. Therefore, the two countries' political elites have decided not to let the territorial disputes hinder economic and other bilateral ties, which can be seen as an achievement. However, China and India, the former foes that waged a military conflict in the early 1960s, will not enjoy absolute trust for a long time.

New Delhi, however, believes that it has to maintain friendly relations with China to ensure that it does not become a rival in the future world order. Analysts have long discussed the two world powers' roles in a new world. Some suggest they will meet like two boxers in the ring, and only one country will emerge victorious, whereas others argue China's industrial capabilities will blend in perfectly with India's successes in the high-tech sphere.

Besides, India is not afraid of common interests in one and the same sphere with China or Russia, as it does not tie its hands in other areas. And China and Russia share the view.

The 280,000,000 people living in China's backward western provinces pose a major problem for Beijing. Trade routes to Central Asia are crucial for China as it seeks to develop those provinces. Therefore, cooperation with New Delhi and Moscow interests China greatly.

Moscow believes it can benefit from its role as a mediator promoting rapprochement between its two allies. This role can prove to be a boon, particularly since both China and India need Russian oil and natural gas. Even Russia has not quite understood that China and India are evolving into main investors in the oil and natural gas sector, which is crucial for the Russian economy. Anyway, the trio should learn to talk all difficult things over rather than push each other around.

Today, all trilateral talks seem to focus above all on Central Asia, which is crucial for Russia. The country has improved its positions there in the wake of recent unrests in Kyrgyzstan, which makes talks more specific.

Determining a range of issues to be discussed in the trilateral format was a difficult process. It took the three countries three meetings they held on the sidelines of international forums to finish it. The Vladivostok meeting showed the process had been completed successfully. We are actually witnessing the emergence of a new mechanism in Central Asia similar to permanent dialogue between Russia, France, and Germany (Spain has only recently joined it). Neither of them are anti-American alliances, but those set up to ensure the common interests of Europe and Asia, something they can only do themselves.

Moscow, Beijing, and New Delhi are yet to draw up a timetable for regular meetings. The foreign ministers have already stated that they will definitely hold another meeting. All they have to do is find the right place and time.

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