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OffStumped For All Things Right of Center, Bringing a Right of Centre Reality Check to Indian Politics, News Media Reporting and Opinion now in Hindi अब आप के लिये हिंदी मे.
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The Foreign Ministers of India, Russia and China got together for a high profile trilateral meeting in New Delhi on Wednesday. The foreign ministers called for a more balanced world order that is fair while insisting they were not ganging up against any Superpower. Given how much the universe of Superpowers has shrunk from 2 to 1, international observers took that disclaimer with a grain of salt. All three countries called for reforming the United Nations so that the global body could tackle more effectively conflicts between and within states and the threat posed by international terrorism. The situation in the Middle East, Iran’s nuclear program, Iraq, this week’s breakthrough in dismantling North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and Afghanistan’s reconstruction efforts were among other issues that the three leaders discussed, the Chinese minister was reported to have said by the BusinessWeek. According to PTI The Chinese Foreign Minister, Li Zhaoxing, virtually stole the show with his humour at a joint press conference with his Indian and Russian counterparts.

The Chinese sense of humor apart, China and Russia may very well have had the last laugh. Offstumped poses the question – how does the trilateral forum serve Indian strategic interests ?

Russia under Putin has transformed significantly from the time Putin visited Bush in his Texas Ranch and Bush joked that he wouldnt have invited Putin to his Ranch if he had not trusted him. George W Bush might very well be rethinking those remarks in the wake of rebuke from Putin on American expansionism. Putin’s recent remarks mark the second coming of age of a Russia that is aggressively pursuing an agenda to reclaim its cold war era status of a major world power. Russia under Putin is doing so with a combination of aggressive Energy Nationalisation at home and Energy Diplomacy abroad peppered with the occassional UN Security Council veto to secure concessions from the U.S. on key votes from Iran to North Korea. The NYTimes Tom Friedman blames NATO expansion for the American failure to have cultivated Putin as a more reliable ally rather than the cold warrior he has since become. The fact remains however Russia under Putin while fraying on democracy at home and not always playing fair in the energy games is aggressively acquiring leverage to serve what it sees as its strategic interest – reclaiming its world power status.

China meanwhile has charted a new course of buying strategic leverage through loans and investments. In what started as deepening ties in South East Asia, China secured access to key markets by granting aid and making strategic investments. This has since expanded to Africa with the recent Afro Summit in Beijing followed by Hu Jintao’s Africa visit. What we are now seeing is China investing in African countries in a bid to gain access to energy sources in Africa. Hu Jintao’s 12 day visit included 8 african nations as he left behind what the NYTimes calls a multi-billion dollar trail of forgiven debts and cheap new loans for a continent of strategic economic importance to Beijing.  The China African Forum in Beijing earlier in 2006 had attracted 48 of the 53 African states but clearly the pearl in the crown was Angola which is China’s largest source of foreign oil. China has also invested heavily in oil extraction, helping Sudan export about $2 billion worth of crude annually, half of that to China.

Both China and Russia have been aggressively pursuing their strategic interests much to the chagrin of the western world and more specifically America. It stands to reason that China and Russia benefit from any ganging up that skews the balance of power away from America if not decisively towards either one of them.

Now what about India. What exactly is the Indian National Interest and is it better served or ill served in the so called multi polar world or a world where assymetrical forces skew the balance of power away from America if not necessarily empowering anyone nation against it.

From the cacophony of political voices that dominate the public debate in India it is hard to glean if there is a consensus view on where Indian Strategic Interests lie and if that view was the outcome of rational intentions. From Sonia Gandhi who views strategy as driven by compulsions to Manmohan Singh who sees Apartheid in India it is hard to tell if the current Congress lead UPA dispensation has a strategic view of the nation’s interests. The opposition BJP is still stuck with post Vajpayee-Advani era internal churning to present a consistent and coherent world view. The Social Justice brigade are still stuck in 69% reservation and funds for minorities to offer an intelligent opinion. The Communists have hijacked Indian National Interest to serve a dubious ideological agend and a perverse value system that spends more time advocating for the Hezbollah in Lebanon than against Islamic Terrorists in India.

So given where we are is there such a thing as the Indian National Interest. If so where is it articulated and who is its custodian. Sometime back Nitin from the ACORN (http://acorn.indiannational.interest.in) mooted articulating the same along the lines of http://www.nixoncenter.org/publications/monographs/nationalinterests.pdf which Offstumped believes should be a good starting point but without reasonable political or social consensus behind it, this would still be pie in the sky thinking. Nevertheless the debate must start.
Offstumped Bottomline: It would be premature to celebrate the India Russia China trilateral forum. While China and Russia seem to be quite clear on their strategic interests and are aggressively pursuing them, the cacophony of voices in India have clouded the thinking on where our strategic interests lie. From a strategy driven by compulsions as Sonia Gandhi seems to be stuck with, it is time Indian Strategic Interests were spelt out as the outcome of rational intentions. Until such a time the Trilateral Forum should make do for good Chinese Humor and Russian Vodka.

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