Second Russia-India-China meeting aimed at concrete trade cooperation measures

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Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi (C), Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) and Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj hold the 16th meeting of the foreign ministers of China, Russia and India in Wuzhen of east China's Zhejiang Province, Feb. 27, 2019. (Xinhua/Weng Xinyang)

China confirmed that Chinese President Xi Jinping will attend an informal meeting with leaders from Russia and India on the sidelines of the upcoming G20 summit in Osaka, Japan. According to media reports, it was during the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi pitched the idea of the second Russia-India-China meeting to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Given the three countries’ respective trade tensions with the US recently, the trilateral meeting will undoubtedly attract high attention during the Osaka G20 summit.

It is not the first time that the leaders of the three countries – all are among the top 10 economies in the world – will have a meeting during the G20 summit. There was, previously, an informal Russia-India-China meeting as well as a multilateral meeting of the BRICS leaders during the Buenos Aires G20 summit last year.

However, while India discussed jointly opposing trade protectionism with Russia and China during the last G20 summit, it also had a meeting with the leaders of the US and Japan to exchange views on such major topics as maritime security. To a certain extent, India has consistently managed to maintain a balance between its Eurasia neighbors and Indo-Pacific allies so as to obtain specific benefits from both sides.

It should be noted that India has a strategic partnership with the US and is a major defense partner of the US. But that didn’t prevent the US from opening a new front in the global trade war and making India its latest target. The US government recently revoked India’s preferential trade privileges that exempted $54 billion worth of Indian goods from tariffs. In response, India announced that it would impose retaliatory tariffs on 28 US products.

As for Russia and China, the US has already imposed several rounds of sanctions on Russia, while China and the US are now locked in a full-blown trade war, covering almost all commodities between the two economies. In response to this, China and Russia agreed earlier this month to upgrade their relations to a comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era, making them a more reliable partner to each other. Whatever the purpose of Modi’s proposal to hold the second Russia-India-China meeting, this time the trilateral meeting is expected to generate more concrete results against the current background of the trade war.

If the trilateral meeting wants to take a more pragmatic approach toward trade and economic issues, China must make its own proposals instead of passively considering India’s plans. Strengthened economic and trade cooperation cannot be achieved by slogans about jointly opposing trade protectionism, but requires specific plans and measures. For instance, how to improve the interconnectivity under the SCO framework or the BRICS framework could be a direction for future cooperation. Previously, Russia had proposed the idea of enhancing interconnectivity among BRICS countries, so that there is sufficient room for the three countries to do more in this regard. Another interesting direction is whether it is possible to connect the International North South Transportation Corridor with the Belt and Road Initiative.

Moreover, India appears especially active recently in international energy cooperation, which is totally understandable considering the new US sanctions on Iran. India is Iran’s second-biggest buyer of crude oil. China is the world’s second largest importer of LNG and India is the fourth. The two countries are also large oil importers, so between them the two countries have great buying power in the global energy market. According to Indian media reports, India and China plan to put in place arrangements to form a buyer’s bloc to reduce the influence of major oil suppliers on oil prices. In the meantime, in order to avoid the financial risks brought by US sanctions, Russia has reportedly been working on a de-dollarization program in recent years. It seems quite possible for the three countries to carry out energy cooperation and conduct energy transactions in non-dollar currencies.

In the area of technological cooperation, while there are still some restrictions and limitations, improvements could still be made in some sectors. For instance, China and Russia signed a cooperative agreement in November 2018 between their respective global navigation satellite systems, China’s BeiDou and Russia’s GLONASS. It would be interesting to also explore the possibility of cooperation between China’s BeiDou and India’s Global Positioning System.

The article was compiled based on an interview with Liu Zongyi, a senior fellow of Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, a visiting fellow of the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China and a distinguished fellow of the China (Kunming) South Asia & Southeast Asia Institute. Global Times

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