Looking for balance in power

A month after India was part of the ‘Quad’ discussion on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Manila involving Japan, Australia and the U.S., New Delhi hosted foreign ministers of Russia and China this week. The Russia-India-China trilateral held its 15th meeting in what can be construed as New Delhi’s attempt to get a semblance of balance in its ties with Moscow and Beijing.

Scope of talks

The broader discussions, according to a joint communique of the 15th meeting, “took place in the backdrop of the political scenario in West Asia and North Africa, numerous challenges in putting the world economy back on the growth track, concerns relating to terrorism, transnational organised crime, illicit drug trafficking, food security, and climate change.” But what was perhaps interesting was Russia and China’s continued attempts to frame global and regional politics through a similar lens, and the growing divergences between India and them. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made it clear that he believes that India can benefit by joining China’s Belt and Road Initiative. “I know India has problems, we discussed it today, with the concept of One Belt, One Road, but the specific problem in this regard should not make everything else conditional to resolving political issues,” Mr. Lavrov said. Targeting India’s participation in the ‘Quad’, he also underlined that a sustainable security architecture cannot be achieved in the Asia-Pacific region with “closed bloc arrangements.” Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi also cautioned against “spheres of influence” and “cliques” by arguing that China opposed “hegemony and power politics and disagree with the sphere of influence and cliques and promote the democratisation of international relations.” China, meanwhile, continued to take an aggressive posture on Doklam and its aftermath. Mr. Wang said in a speech before his Delhi visit: “We have handled the issue of cross-border incursions by the Indian border troops into China’s Donglang (Doklam) area through diplomatic measures.” Though he suggested that “China and India have far greater shared strategic interests than differences, and far greater needs for cooperation than partial friction,” he maintained that “through diplomatic means, the Indian side withdrew its equipment and personnel which reflected the value and importance of China-India relations and demonstrated sincerity and responsibility of maintaining regional peace and stability.”

Tension in the air

The tensions in the trilateral framework are inevitable given the changes in the global geopolitical environment. The original conception of this framework was a response to a very different global environment. The proposal for a Moscow-Beijing-Delhi ‘strategic triangle’ had originally come from former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov during his visit to India in 1998, when he argued that such an arrangement would represent a force for greater regional and international stability. This did not elicit as enthusiastic a response from China and India as Russia had perhaps hoped for. Thereafter, the three countries continued to focus on improving the nature of their bilateral relationships, maintaining a safe distance from the Primakov proposal. But, this idea of a ‘strategic triangle’ took a tangible form when former Foreign Ministers of Russia, China, and India — Igor Ivanov, Tang Jiaxuan and Yashwant Sinha — met on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York in September 2002. Despite the fact that nothing concrete emerged out of that meeting, it represented the first major attempt by the three nations to deliberate on world affairs, and since then has become a regular feature of interactions among the three states. The three nations had very different expectations from this trilateral. Russia’s role was key as its loss of power and influence on the world scene was a major cause of concern for its leadership. There was a growing and pervasive feeling in Russia that it surrendered its once-powerful position on the world stage for a position of little international influence and respect. It is against this backdrop that Russia tried to establish itself as the hub of two bilateral security partnerships that could be used to counteract U.S. power and influence in areas of mutual concern. While Russia witnessed a downward slide in its status as a superpower since the end of the Cold War, China emerged as a rising power that saw the U.S. as the greatest obstacle, if it was to achieve a pre-eminent position in the global political hierarchy. As a consequence, China recognised the importance of cooperating with Russia to check U.S. expansionism in the world, even if only for the short term. In fact, American policies towards Russia and China moved the two states closer to each other, leading to the formation of a new balance of power against the U.S.

India’s stance

India, on the other hand, had different considerations, as it was still far from becoming a global power of any reckoning. India saw in the trilateral a mechanism to bring greater balance in the global order as it believed that a unipolar U.S.-dominated world was not in the best interests of weaker states like itself, even as strategic convergence deepened between Washington and Delhi. Moreover, all three countries realised the enormous potential in the economic, political, military and cultural realms if bilateral relationships among them were adequately strengthened. As a consequence, the trilateral did not lead to consequences of any great import. It merely resulted in declarations which were often critical of the West, and of the U.S. in particular. Yet this was also a period which saw significant shifts in Indo-U.S. ties as bilateral relations expanded while Russian and Chinese links with the U.S. have witnessed a downward shift. The joint declaration of the recent trilateral meeting said: “Those committing, organising, inciting or supporting terrorist acts” must be held accountable and brought to justice under international law, including the principle of “extradite or prosecute.” It stopped short of naming Pakistan-based terror groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, something that India would have liked in line with the most recent BRICS declaration. An arrangement that had started with an attempt to manage American unipolarity is now being affected fundamentally by Chinese resurgence. Both Russia and India are having to deal with the externalities being generated by China’s rise. While Russia is getting closer to China, India is trying to leverage its partnership with other like-minded states in the wider Indo-Pacific region. As a multipolar world order takes shape, India will have to engage with multiple partners so as to limit bilateral divergences. The Russia-India-China template comes with its own set of challenges. China’s Global Times, commenting on the recent trilateral, suggested that “the leaders of the three only meet with each other on international occasions,” adding, “this indicates it does not have high status in diplomacy and cannot bear more functions.” While this may be true, New Delhi’s continued engagement with the duo suggests that India is today confident of setting its own agenda in various platforms. Just as China engages with the U.S. on the one hand and with Russia on the other, a rising India is quite capable of managing its ties with Washington, Beijing and Moscow simultaneously. It will not always be easy, but in an age when the certitudes of the past are fast vanishing, diplomacy will have to tread a complex path.


1) Hosted

Meaning: A place or organization that provides the space and other necessary things for a special event.

Example: Japan is playing host to the next international conference.

2) Construed

Meaning: Interpret (a word or action) in a particular way.

Example:  “His words could hardly be construed as an apology”

Synonyms:  Interpret, Understand

3) Semblance

Meaning: The outward appearance or apparent form of something, especially when the reality is different.

Example: “She tried to force her thoughts back into some semblance of order”

synonyms:  Appearance, Outward appearance

4) Communique

Meaning: An official announcement or statement, especially one made to the media.

Example: “The country’s foreign ministry issued a communique”

synonyms:  Official communication, press release

5) Illicit

Meaning: Forbidden by law, rules, or custom.

Example:  “Illicit drugs”

Synonyms: Illegal, Unlawful

Antonyms: Licit, Legal

6) Trafficking

Meaning: Deal or trade in something illegal.

Example:”The government will vigorously pursue individuals who traffic in drugs”

synonyms:  Trade, Deal

7) Divergences

Meaning: A difference in opinions, interests, etc.

Example:  “A fundamental divergence of attitude”

Synonyms: Difference, Variance

Antonyms: Similarity

8) Bloc

Meaning: A group of countries or political parties with common interests who have formed an alliance.

Example: “The Soviet bloc”

Synonyms: Alliance, Coalition

9) Cautioned

Meaning: Warn or advise against (doing something).

Example:  “Advisers have cautioned against tax increases”

synonyms: Advise, Warn

10) Cliques

Meaning: A small close-knit group of people who do not readily allow others to join them.

Example: “His flat became a haven for a clique of young men of similar tastes”

synonyms: Coterie, Circle

11) Hegemony

Meaning: Leadership or dominance, especially by one state or social group over others.

Example:  “Germany was united under Prussian hegemony after 1871”

synonyms:  Leadership, Dominance

Antonyms: Self-government

12) Democratisation

Meaning: The introduction of a democratic system or democratic principles.

Example: “He has funded efforts to promote democratization in Europe”

13) Aftermath

Meaning: The consequences or after-effects of a significant unpleasant event.

Example: “Food prices soared in the aftermath of the drought”

Synonyms: Fallout, Trail

14) Incursions

Meaning: An invasion or attack, especially a sudden or brief one.

Example:  “Incursions into enemy territory”

synonyms:  Attack on, assault on

Antonyms: Retreat

15) Friction

Meaning: Conflict or animosity caused by a clash of wills, temperaments, or opinions.

Example:  “A considerable amount of friction between father and son”

synonyms:  Discord, disharmony

Antonyms: Harmony

16) Inevitable

Meaning: Certain to happen; unavoidable.

Example:  “War was inevitable”

synonyms:  Unavoidable, inescapable

Antonyms: Avoidable, Uncertain

17) Geopolitical

Meaning: Relating to politics, especially international relations, as influenced by geographical factors.

18) Elicit

Meaning: Evoke or draw out (a reaction, answer, or fact) from someone.

Example: “I tried to elicit a smile from Joanna”

synonyms:  Obtain, Bring out

19) Enthusiastic

Meaning: Having or showing intense and eager enjoyment, interest, or approval.

Example: “He could be wildly enthusiastic about a project”

synonyms:  Eager, Keen

Antonyms: Apathetic

20) Tangible

Meaning: Clear and definite; real.

Example: “The emphasis is now on tangible results”

synonyms:  Real, Actual

21) Emerged

Meaning: Recover from or survive a difficult situation.

Example: “The economy has started to emerge from recession”

22) Deliberate

Meaning: Done consciously and intentionally.

Example: “A deliberate attempt to provoke conflict”

Synonyms: Intentional, Calculated

23) Pervasive

Meaning: (Especially of an unwelcome influence or physical effect) spreading widely throughout an area or a group of people.

Example: “Ageism is pervasive and entrenched in our society”

Synonyms: Prevalent, Extensive

24) Hub

Meaning: The effective centre of an activity, region, or network.

Example: “The city has always been the financial hub of the country”

Synonyms: Centre, Core

Antonyms: Periphery

25) Counteract

Meaning: Act against (something) in order to reduce its force or neutralize it.

Example: “Should we deliberately intervene in the climate system to counteract global warming?”

synonyms:  Prevent, Thwart

Antonyms: Encourage, Enhance

26) Concern

Meaning: Make (someone) anxious or worried.

Example: “The roof of the barn concerns me because eventually it will fall in”

synonyms:  Worry, Disturb

27) Hierarchy

Meaning: A system in which members of an organization or society are ranked according to relative status or authority.

Example: “The initiative was with those lower down in the hierarchy”

Synonyms: Pecking order, Ranking

28) Expansionism

Meaning: The policy of territorial or economic expansion.

Example: “The need to oppose German expansionism”

29) Reckoning

Meaning: The action or process of calculating or estimating something.

Example: “The sixth, or by another reckoning eleventh, Earl of Mar”

synonyms:  Calculation, Estimation

30) Enormous

Meaning: Very large in size, quantity, or extent.

Example: “Enormous sums of money”

synonyms:  Huge, Vast

Antonyms: Tiny

31) Inciting

Meaning: Encourage or stir up (violent or unlawful behaviour).

Example: “They conspired to incite riots”

Synonyms: Encourage, Fuel

Antonyms: Suppress, Deter

32) Extradite                                      

Meaning: Hand over (a person accused or convicted of a crime) to the jurisdiction of the foreign state in which the crime was committed.

Example: “Brazil refused to extradite him to Britain”

synonyms:  Deport, Hand over

33) Prosecute

Meaning: Institute legal proceedings in respect of (a claim or offence).

Example: “The state’s attorney’s office seemed to decide that this was a case worth prosecuting”

Synonyms: Accuse, Sue

Antonyms: Defend, Pardon

34) Resurgence

Meaning: An increase or revival after a period of little activity, popularity, or occurrence.

Example: “A resurgence of interest in religion”

Synonyms: Renewal, Revival

35) Leverage

Meaning: The power to influence a person or situation.

Example:  “The right wing had lost much of its political leverage in the Assembly”

Synonyms: Influence, Power

36) Template

Meaning: Something that serves as a model for others to copy.

Example: “The plant was to serve as the template for change throughout the company”

37) Duo

Meaning: A pair of people or things, especially in music or entertainment.

Example: “The comedy duo Laurel and Hardy”

38) Agenda

Meaning: A plan of things to be done or problems to be addressed.

Example: “He vowed to put jobs at the top of his agenda”

Synonyms: Schedule, Programme

39) Certitudes

Meaning: Absolute certainty or conviction that something is the case.

Example: “The question may never be answered with certitude”

Synonyms: Certainty, Confidence

Antonyms: Doubt

40) Vanishing

Meaning: Disappear suddenly and completely.

Example: “Moira vanished without trace”

Synonyms: Disappear, Evaporate

Antonyms: Appear, Materialize