At the recent G20 meeting in 2018, Japan, India and US conducted a trilateral dialogue. At the same venue, India, Russia and China also held a joint meeting.

Japan – U.S - India (JAI) trilateralRussia - India - China trilateral
Global Significance of JAI:
Democratic basis: JAI members are founded on the bedrock of democracy and are defenders of ‘people’s choice’ around the world.
Freedom of navigation and territorial integrity: JAI are geared towards ensuring freedom of navigation, respect for international law and peaceful resolution of disputes around the world on the basis of international norms, prudent financing and respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Connectivity: All three countries support the idea of ensuring connectivity across Indo-Pacific, Asia, Africa and Europe through efforts like Asia Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) etc.
Maritime security and Indo-Pacific: The group has maritime security high on its agenda. Indo-Pacific is of particular importance to all three countries because of its strategic relevance for them and the world, including South China Sea.
Disaster relief: The Malabar exercise, joint army exercises conducted between three ensure disaster preparedness. They share best practices and experiences with a view to strengthening a regional response to natural disasters.
Global Significance of RIC:
• Together, the RIC countries occupy over 19 percent of the global landmass and contribute to over 33 percent of global GDP.
Eurasian century: As the Eurasian supercontinent regains its primacy in world affairs and as the interests of India, Russia and China deepen and clash in the region, it would be useful to have a platform to discuss areas of cooperation and understand the differences.
Shift of power from West to East: Rise of RIC would shift global power center towards east from western domination.
US’ Realpolitik: US’ opportunist policy and its precedents pose serious danger for India if it severs it connections with like-minded Asian developing partners.
• Regional Stability – RIC can ensure regional stability by supporting political transformation in Afghanistan through efforts like Moscow Format, development of Central Asia for mutual benefit, stabilization of Korean peninsula, Rohingya persecution and the ensuing disturbance in South Asia etc.
Reform of global institutions: RIC is a powerful voice for demanding reform and strengthening of multilateral institutions like the UN and the WTO.
• Energy grid - With Russia being a major exporter of energy and India and China being major consumers, the three countries could discuss the creation of an Asian energy grid.
Challenges faced by JAI:
India’s dilemma: JAI poses problem for India because of the former’s apparent anti-RIC orientation.
Not self-sufficient: JAI alone as a group is insufficient to steer global growth as China is a rising power which is intricately integrated with global economy and Russia holds considerable clout in Asia-Pacific.
Dependence on China: Individual countries in JAI and their economies are closely linked with China’s economy which makes their independent emergence unviable:
o Economies of US and China are deeply enmeshed such that anyone’s downfall affects the other.
o Japan and China have recently achieved a thaw in relations in their informal summit when they decided to launch joint development projects in third countries.
Challenges faced by RIC:
Pakistan axis: China is Pakistan’s ‘all weather friend' and its CPEC undermines India’s sovereignty, whereas Russia has drawn closer to Pakistan of lately to expand its defence markets. These events present a major challenge in evolving confidence among RIC members.
China’s aggressive Indian Ocean diplomacy: Efforts by China to dominate Indian Ocean through its naval installations primarily to encircle India may hamper RIC synergy.
India China bilateral concerns: Doklam crisis, China’s disapproval for India’s NSG and UNSC membership and opposition towards declaring Masood Azhar as terrorist in UN act as hindrance in developing long-term trust in RIC.
India’s dependence on US and Japan: India shares close relationship with US and Japan on certain issues like technology transfer, membership in global institutions, connectivity between Asia and Africa, Indo-Pacific security and navigation etc. which make it impossible to abdicate this grouping.

Contentious Issues between RIC and JAI members:


  • Trade wars between US and China, China’s trade distorting practices, economic colonialism and disrespect for rules based order.
  • China’s disrespect for national sovereignty (BRI passing through LoC, South China Issue).
  • Conflict between China and Japan over control of islands (Senkaku) in East China Sea.
  • South Korean tilt towards China has strained relations between China and Japan.


  • Rising protectionism, unilateral sanctions, indifference to climate change effects and undemocratic hegemony over global institutions like UN, IMF and WTO.


  • Annexation of Crimea, proxy war in Syria, Russian meddling and hacking US elections and Russian violation of Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. 
Above issues highlight the festering problems between members of RIC and JAI which can act as hindrance in JAI-RIC bonhomie. This presents best opportunity for India to act as a rivet between both groups as India is intricately connected with all the stakeholders:

  • India and Japan share ‘Special Strategic& Global Partnership’ which includes development cooperation in India and third countries, development of Northeast India and civilian nuclear cooperation etc.
  • India and US share many commonalities and are further exploring areas convergence by establishing new joint mechanisms like 2+2 dialogue.
  • India and Russia are indispensable for each other, highlighted by their defenceand decades old partnership (latest being S400 deal), common resolve for developing North-South corridor, strong people to people and cultural relations.
  • India and China jointly present a third force to counter Western dominated global governance institutions like UN and WTO and their reform.

Role of India in JAI and RIC:

India enjoys cordial relations with all members of RIC and JAI bilaterally and hence can play a constructive role between JAI and RIC which could lead to:

  1. Minimizing bilateral discord: By linking and bridging RIC and JAI, India can bring together individual countries like US, Japan, China and Russia which would create thaw in their bilateral issues.
  2. Convergence on global issues: RIC and JAI can together eke out consensus on issues like:
  • Economic: Sustainable trade policies and reform of WTO;streamlining governance of global supply of oil and prices,resolving the trade war between major economies, upholding rule based order
  • Climate: Broader deliberations on climate change problem and its mitigation strategy.
  • Regional development: Almost all countries in JAI and RIC are involved in development of least developed regions like Africa and South Asia etc. which can be made more robust if all collaborate on these issues jointly.
  • Security: Peaceful resolving of Syrian proxy war crisis, Middle East turbulence (Saudi-Qatar divide, peace in Iraq etc.) and terrorism problem in South Asia.
  1. Institutional reforms– JAI and RIC synergy could be channelized in bringing reforms of organizations like UN and IMF etc.
  2. Voice of developing world: India can become the voice of developing and least developed countries and its neighbors like Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan etc., due to its enhanced global role and subsequent access.
  3. Strengthening of global institutions: Synergy between RIC and JAI can enhance credibility and influence of organs like WTO, UN, United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) (climate change deadlock), United Nations Convention on Law of Seas (UNCLOS) (South China Sea award by UNCLOS ignored by China), which have witnessed erosion of control lately.
  4. Regional Pacts: Continuity of regional pacts and agreements, like Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) can be ensured through joint efforts of JAI and RIC.

Benefits to India:

By playing the crucial role of a ‘swing state’ between JAI and RIC, India can secure the following:

  1. Bargaining Power: India can play JAI v/s RIC card in order to secure important benefitsfor itself from both the groupings like NSG membership and sanctions on Pakistan’s terror activities etc.
  2. Economic opportunities:India can widen its source of investments and trade by conducting with both the groupings.
  3. Global Leader: By being the lynchpin between RIC and JAI, India can project itself as a global power and contender of UN permanent membership.
  4. Strengthening of bilateral relations:Issues between India-China, India-Russia and India-US can be dealt more effectively through meaningful interventions and engagements. For example, Russia can bridge the gap between India and China, since it enjoys strong relations with both.
  5. Taking leverage over Pakistan: A ‘swing state’ position between RIC and JAI would make India the hinge of South Asian diplomacy, a position currently enjoyed by Pakistan.
  6. Combating terrorism:India can bring convergence among JAI and RIC on challenges of terrorism, its source & sponsors (Pakistan, Afghanistan’s stability and sanctions on Masood Azhar) and countering strategies.
  7. Secured and open navigation:JAI and RIC together can ensure safe, secure and open navigation on high seas including Indo-Pacific and South China Sea.

India’s orientation towards JAI: An evaluation of India’s preference between JAI and RIC, highlights India’s greater orientation towards JAI which is buttressed by:

  • Signing of LEMoAand Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) between India and US.
  • India’s outright rejection of China led Belt and Road initiative (BRI)
  • India’s participation in Indo-Pacific Quad grouping

Orientation towards RIC: On the flip side following events signal India’s likings for RIC:

  • India’s continuing trade with Iran and Russia and its refusal to follow US imposed sanctions on both.
  • S400missile deal was signed between India and Russia despite threat of sanctions by US under Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act, CAATSA.
  • India, Russia and China stand together in acknowledging climate change, its affects and need to take sustained efforts for its mitigation, whereas US has withdrawn from the idea.

While balancing RIC and JAI, India needs to be cautious about following:

  1. Maintaining non-aggression: In all its dealings between RIC and JAI, India must maintain non-aggression and should not be seen targeting any particular nation like China, as in Quad, where India has made clear its non-strategic orientation towards Quad.
  2. Preserving its ‘strategic autonomy’: India must avoid toeing too much line of other groupings on its core principles and maintain its strategic autonomy instead in taking its decisions.
  3. Not being singled out/Odd one out: Ensuring that in its efforts of acting a bridge between both India is not singled out at a later stage in the process and must create leverages on both sides.
  4. Sticking to its mandate: India is a voice of developing world and must remain so and avoid aligning with super powers mandate against developing world as witnessed in its changed attitude in WTO.
  5. Fast track & proactive diplomacy: Indian diplomacy would play a crucial role if India has to balance JAI and RIC. This would require fast tracking diplomatic channels, refurbishing their research activity and promoting proactive policy analysis.

Way forward:

India is perfectly placed between RIC and JAI to act as a swing state. India’s any action in the JAI and RIC conundrum has the ability to tilt the balance of power to either side. Hence it would be prudent for India to act as a balancing state between both and simultaneously create leverages in both RIC and JAI to keep one group as a guard against another for India’s benefit.

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