RIC, a triangle that is still important

Paper:

Mains: General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.

Context:

  • In the light of growing calls for a more decisive westward shift in India’s foreign policy, the article analyzes the relevance of continued engagement with China and Russia.

Background:

  • Even amid the tensions on the Line of Actual Control between India and China, India decided to attend a (virtual) meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Russia, India and China (RIC).
  • This move was criticized by some sections amid calls to drastically reduce India’s engagement with the Chinese and align with the West led by the U.S. to counter the Chinese.

Evolution of the RIC:

  • RIC is a strategic grouping that first took shape in the late 1990s under the leadership of Russia as a counterbalance to the Western alliances. The RIC dialogue commenced in the early 2000s.
  • The three countries involved in the dialogue – Russia, India and China were positioning themselves for a transition from a unipolar to a multipolar world order.
  • Though the RIC shared some non-west perspectives on the global order, it was not an anti-west construct. They supported democratisation of the global economic and financial architecture which later became the agenda of the BRIC organization (with the addition of Brazil).
  • The initial years of the RIC dialogue coincided with an upswing in India’s relations with Russia and China.
  • This period witnessed the reinforcement of the political, defence and energy partnership between India and Russia.
  • This period also witnessed progress on the border dispute between India and China.In 2003, it was decided to bring a political approach to the boundary dispute and to develop multi-sectoral engagement. The 2005 agreement, identifying political parameters applicable in an eventual border settlement, implicitly recognised India’s interests in Arunachal Pradesh.

The downswing:

  • The RIC claim of overlapping or similar approaches to key international issues does not hold anymore.
  • China has gone back on the 2005 agreement with India, launched the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, worked to undermine India’s influence in its neighborhood and expanded its military and economic presence in the Indian Ocean. This goes against the agreed principle of respecting international law and recognizing the legitimate interest of partners.
  • Transformations in the external environment have adversely impacted the RIC dialogue. RIC dynamics have remained sensitive to U.S.-Russia-China relations.
  • The U.S.-Russia relations came to a standstill in 2014 after the annexation/accession of Crimea. The western campaign led by the U.S. to isolate Russia drove it into a much closer relationship with China.

The Indo-Pacific issue:

  • For India, the Indo-Pacific is a geographic space of economic and security importance, in which a cooperative order should prevent the dominance of any external power.
  • However, China sees India’s Indo-Pacific initiatives as part of a U.S.-led policy of containing China. At the same time, Russia sees the Indo-Pacific initiatives as part of the American ploy to draw India and Japan into a military alliance against China and Russia.

India-U.S. relations:

  • The relationship with Russia has also witnessed a downswing as the India-U.S. collaboration widened.
  • India’s relations with the U.S. have been on the upswing, encompassing trade and investment, a landmark civil nuclear deal and an expanding defence relationship.
  • This is in line with India’s objective of diversifying military acquisitionsaway from a near-total dependence on Russia and a strategic intent to counter the Chinese.
  • The U.S. sees value in its relations with India given the huge market potential offered by India be it for normal goods and services or high-end military equipment. With China rapidly emerging as a challenger to its global pre-eminence, the U.S. sees value in partnering with a democratic India in Asia.

Significance of engagement:

  • Despite the current differences between the three nations, the Russia-India-China engagement still holds significance for India.

RIC:

  • The RIC is a significant multilateral grouping because it brings together the three largest Eurasian countries on one platform. RIC provides a platform to discuss important issues like West Asia, Afghanistan, climate change, terrorism and regional connectivity which are significant aspects for India. RIC allows for cooperation in areas where the mutual interests converge.
  • Given the geopolitical transitionunderway, the RIC grouping could have an important role to play in the efforts to renew and rebuild the international organizations.
  • Together, the RIC countries occupy over 19% of the global landmass and contribute to over 33% of global GDP. This brings to light the economic heft of the grouping.
  • RIC could provide a platform for the resolution of differences between the member nations through dialogue. Russia could act as a bridge between India and China since it enjoys strong relations with both.
  • Given India’s initiatives in groups like the JAI (Japan, the U.S. and India) and the Quad, continued engagement with RIC would allow India to ensure strategic balance in its relations.

Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO):

  • India is part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which includes Russia, China and four other Central Asian countries. China and Russia are the driving forces behind the SCO.
  • Central Asia is strategically locatedand borders India’s turbulent neighbourhood. Pakistan’s membership of SCO and the potential admission of Iran and Afghanistan as member states would heighten the significance of the SCO for India.
  • India could leverage its membership in the association to build its strategic depth in the region.

Relationship with Russia:

  • The defence and energy partnership of India with Russiaremain critical. Access to Russia’s abundant natural resources can enhance India’s materials security.
  • The ongoing India-Iran-Russia project for a sea/road/rail link from western India through Iran to Afghanistan and Central Asia would help achieve an effective Indian presence in Central Asia, alongside Russia and China.
  • Growing Chinese influence in the region is testing the Russia-China ties. Association with Russia will provide India with the leverage to shape the Russia-China dynamics and also help dilute the Russia-China duopoly.

Relationship with China:

  • China is a dominant player in global affairsand is poised to evolve as a global superpower.
  • China continues to account for a major proportion of the global manufacturing and Indian sectors like automobile and pharmaceuticals continue to remain dependent on Chinese imports.
  • With China sharing a long land boundary with India, good relations with China will help India avoid the threat of a two-front war and focus on the economy.

Way forward:

Deepening relations with Russia:

  • India should focus on economic links with the Russian Far Eastand activation of the Chennai-Vladivostok maritime corridor. This will help India persuade Russia that its interests in the Pacific are compatible with India’s interest in diluting Chinese dominance in the Indo-Pacific.
  • India could try to use Russia, considered an ally of the Chinese, to counter the Chinese. Relationship with Russia can act as an important aspect of India’s counter China policy.

Engaging China:

  • Though the increasing assertiveness of the Chinese should accelerate India’s efforts to bridge the bilateral asymmetries, disengagement is not the ideal way forward.
  • There is a need to keep options open to work bilaterally and multilaterally with China on important issues, even while firmly protecting India’s interests on the border and the economy.

Ensuring autonomy of action:

  • India has traditionally avoided taking sides in international politics, especially between the great powers, preferring its traditional nonalignment policy.
  • Despite China’s hostile behaviour and the growing potential of a U.S.-India relationship, India is well advised to retain autonomy in its policies. India’s partnership with the U.S., though necessary, will not be a silver bullet to India’s security challenges.
  • India’s foreign policy should be guided by the time-tested principle of non-alignment while responding to the evolving situation.

The South Asian migrant crisis

Paper:

Mains: General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.

Context:

  • The pandemic crisis has further deteriorated the condition of South Asian migrants in the GCC countries and poses new challenges for the countries of their origin.

Background:

  • The South Asia-Gulf migration corridor is among the largest in the world. South Asians account for nearly 15 million in the Gulf. Indians constitute the largest segment of the South Asian workforce.

Details:

  • The precarious situation of the migrant labourers in West Asia forced the Indian government to repatriate the NRIs through the Vande Bharat Mission. The Indian government has repatriated over 7.88 lakh NRIs from various destinations.
  • An increasing number of NRIs who have lost their jobs abroad have returned to India and have been seeking Government aid.

Concerns:

  • Though the South Asian labour force forms the backbone of the Gulf economies, it has no social security protection or labour rights.
  • The pandemic, the shutdown of companies, the tightening of borders, and the exploitative nature of the Kafala sponsorship systemhave aggravated the miseries of South Asian migrant workers.
  • The South Asian labour force found it hard to ensure the availability of basic necessities like food and medicines during the pandemic.
  • Since medicines are expensive in GCC countries, migrants often procure medicines for lifestyle diseases from India. However, the suspension of flights caused an acute shortage of medicines for these workers.
  • The migrants living in the labour camps (mostly characterised by overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions) were vulnerable to the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • Employers, particularly construction companies, have used the crisis as an opportunity to retrench masses of migrant labourers without paying them wages or allowances.

Anti-migrant sentiments:

  • The movement for nationalisation of labour and the anti-migrant sentiment have peaked in GCC countries.

Way forward:

  • India will need to rehabilitate, reintegrate, and resettle these migrant workers.
  • This could involve providing money on arrival, money to launch self-employment projects, and compensation for the familiesof those who died abroad from COVID-19 apart from upgrading the skills of returnees.
  • The Indian government’s ‘SWADES’ schemeaims at skill mapping of citizens returning from abroad. Kerala’s ‘Dream Kerala’ scheme aims to utilise the multifaceted resources of the migrants.

Migration policy:

  • The need of the hour is a comprehensive migration management system. No South Asian country except Sri Lanka has an adequate migration policy.
  • The pandemic provides an opportunity to voice the rights of South Asian migrants and to bring the South Asia-Gulf migration corridor within the ambit of SAARC, the ILO, and UN conventions.