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Russia-India-China: Is It Building a Multipolar World?

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On 26 November 2021, the traditional 18th Foreign Ministers virtual meeting was held between Russia, India, and China. At this meeting, in which India assumed the term presidency, the sides emphasized that they were in favor of a multipolar world.

In the meeting, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that they are “ready to work together to truly implement multilateralism and to ensure the unity of Beijing-Moscow-New Delhi in an ever-changing world.”[1] Foreign Ministers of Russia and India also used expressions supporting Wang Yi’s statements.

Afghanistan was one of the most important cooperation issues agreed upon at the meeting. The three great powers talked about the importance of resolving the problem in Afghanistan through comprehensive dialogue and multilateral cooperation, providing urgent humanitarian aid, and jointly fighting terrorism and drug trafficking. In addition, all three states emphasized that they are against unilateral sanctions.[2]  The Chinese Foreign Minister emphasized that the issues that cause tension between the sides should be resolved through dialogue, and the need to stay away from the zero-sum game or Cold War understanding. Saying similar statements, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar called for building a multipolar and rebalanced world based on the sovereign equality of states and respect for international law.[3]

Although the tensions and occasional clashes at the Ladakh Border Control line continued, the sides refrained from bringing these border tensions to the agenda of the meeting. Despite the positive atmosphere at the meeting, it can be said that the Indian authorities gave some messages to their Chinese counterparts.

Due to the fact that the summit was hosted by India, Jaishankar put the image of the Kanchipuram Temple belonging to the Pallava Dynasty, one of the historical heritages of the country, in the background of the video image in the virtual zoom meeting.[4] The images of the Buddhist temple in the background of Jaishankar aimed to give a message to China. First of all, it is known that the Chinese Buddhist traveler Hiuen Tsang visited this temple in the 7th century and paid tribute to the Hindu kingdom.[5]  

Today, India is home to the government that is in exile of China’s Tibet Autonomous Region. Therefore, New Delhi implied that it has cultural and historical ties to China’s internal dynamics, it can have an influence on the Buddhist Tibetan society and thus it can pose a threat to Beijing. Another message that is wanted to be given with the Kanchipuram Temple in the background of Jaishankar is as follows: Pallava Kings who built this temple, as mentioned in Indian mythology, had never lost a war throughout the history of the country.[6] Therefore, it can be said that India specifically chose this background to convey the message that it cannot be defeated in a possible war with China.       

Despite the tensions with Beijing, New Delhi is in favor of peace and cooperation. Because today, there is almost no country left in India’s close environment that can be described as its friend, ally, or strategic partner. Recently, there has been a strategic uncertainty on the India-Russia line and a clear strategic rapprochement between India and the USA.[7] Despite this, New Delhi has not fully embraced the idea of a formal alliance with Washington or the idea of surrounding China, always leaves the door open for cooperation with Beijing.

Even Iran, one of the countries we can count as friends of New Delhi, has a pragmatic relationship with India. Because Tehran is hostile to the United States, which is India’s close partner, and close ally to China, which is India’s enemy. For this reason, it is very difficult for Tehran and New Delhi to come together on the same axis. The allies that they agree on is Russia. Although India intends to cooperate with this axis (Iran-Russia), it does not want to form a full united front with them. Because Iran and Russia have symbiotic ties with China. All three countries are in favor of multipolarity. India, on the other hand, has recently been acting like a country on the axis of the USA; but it also supports a multipolar world.

One of India’s distant allies is Israel. However, Tel Aviv can cooperate with both Russia and China. In other words, Israel, which avoids taking part in an anti-Chinese formation, cannot fully form a united front with India in regional politics and its cooperation focuses on the Middle East and more on economic-military cooperation. While New Delhi’s friends in foreign policy are decreasing; its enemies are increasing. Afghanistan is one of these losses.  

For all these reasons, India is in a stalemate in foreign policy. Even its most trusted friend, Washington, is likely to impose sanctions on New Delhi. In short, India cannot find a way out in the foreign policy. As a last resort, it tries to get closer to one of its biggest enemies, China. In this context, India aims to improve its economic relations with China against the possibility of a possible commercial crisis with the USA. In this context, New Delhi has put the issue of removing some restrictions and trade bans on trade with China on its agenda. India may get inspired by the words of Sun Tzu: “Keep your friends close; keep your enemies closer.”  


[1] “China, Russia, India Called on to Get Out of ‘Democracy Trap’”, Global Times, “https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202111/1240032.shtml, (Date of Accession: 30.11.2021).

[2] @Wion, “India, Russia, and China to Work Together to Combat Terror|WION|World News|English News Update”, Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TOqbYXkjIHQ, (Date of Accession: 30.11.2021).

[3] “India Sides with Russia, China over Criticisim on US Sanctions in Trilateral Meet”, Deccan Herald, https://www.deccanherald.com/international/world-news-politics/india-sides-with-russia-china-over-criticisim-on-us-sanctions-in-trilateral-meet-1055049.html, (Date of Accession: 30.11.2021). 

[4] For detailed information on the subject, see; “India Dides with Russia, China over Criticisim on US Sanctions in Trilateral Meet”, Deccan Herald, https://www.deccanherald.com/international/world-news-politics/india-sides-with-russia-china-over-criticisim-on-us-sanctions-in-trilateral-meet-1055049.html, (Date of Accession: 30.11.2021). 

[5] “Hiuen Tsang’s Views on India|Indian History”, History Discussion, https://www.historydiscussion.net/history-of-india/hiuen-tsangs-views-on-india-indian-history/6524, (Date of Accession: 30.11.2021).

[6] “Kanchipuram-The Pallava Lion”, Whostory, https://whostory.org/2018/08/21/kanchipuram-the-lion-wrestler/, (Date of Accession: 30.11.2021).

[7] “Russia-India-China Triangle Amid Stormy Geopolitics”, India Times, https://www.indiatimes.com/explainers/news/russia-india-china-triangle-amid-stormy-geopolitics-555359.html, (Date of Accession: 30.11.2021).

Cenk TAMER
ANKASAM Asya-Pasifik Uzmanı 2014 yılında Sakarya Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezun olan Cenk TAMER, aynı yıl Gazi Üniversitesi Ortadoğu ve Afrika Çalışmaları Bilim Dalı’nda yüksek lisans eğitimine başlamıştır. 2016 yılında “1990 Sonrası İran’ın Irak Politikası” başlıklı teziyle master eğitimini tamamlayan Tamer, 2017 yılında ANKASAM’da Araştırma Asistanı olarak göreve başlamış ve aynı yıl Gazi Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Doktora Programı’na kabul edilmiştir. Uzmanlık alanları İran, Mezhepler, Tasavvuf, Mehdilik, Kimlik Siyaseti ve Asya-Pasifik olan ve iyi derecede İngilizce bilen TAMER, Gazi Üniversitesindeki doktora eğitimine devam etmekte ve ANKASAM’da Asya-Pasifik Uzmanı olarak görev almaktadır.