Magazine article Foreign Policy in Focus

Pushback to Unilateralism: The China-India-Russia Alliance

Magazine article Foreign Policy in Focus

Pushback to Unilateralism: The China-India-Russia Alliance

Article excerpt

As U.S. unilateralism has asserted the role of the United States as the sole global superpower, the rest of the world is exploring a variety of ways of pushing back. One is the creation of several new regional security consortiums which are independent of the U.S. One of the most important is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a security alliance led by Russia and China, with several non-voting members including India. Its rising economic, political and military profile this year can serve as a useful lens through which to view this geopolitical pushback. It is based on promoting a multipolar world, distributing power along multiple poles in the international system, such as the United States, Europe, Asia-Eurasia and the Middle East, (1) while also promoting the multilateralism of international cooperation. (2) In recent years, Russia and China have stepped up their advocacy for a multipolar-multilateral alternative.


Russia is promoting its vision of a multipolar world hinging on the consensus-based decision making that it wants steered through global institutions such as the United Nations. Chinese President Hu Jintao has outlined a similar vision. At a caucus of the leaders of Brazil, India, Mexico and South Africa in Berlin, Germany in June of 2007 he said: "Developing countries should strengthen cooperation and consolidate solidarity to promote the establishment of a multipolar world and a democratic international relationship. (3)

India, however, treads cautiously between the competing visions of a world with multiple poles of power. As such, it makes a refined distinction between multipolarity and multilateralism, and strongly advocates for the latter. India rejects multipolarity that seeks to challenge U.S. military power, while espousing the need for cooperation in governing international relations. In 2003, India's External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha outlined the contours of multilateralism: "If globalization is the trend, then multilateralism is its life-sustaining mechanism, for no process will survive without a genuine spirit of multilateralism underlined by the belief that global problems require global solutions globally arrived at. Otherwise, the world faces the risk of repeating the mistakes of the past." (4) He emphatically rejected unilateralism, and pointed out that "Iraq attests to the limits of unilateralism." (5) In October this year, Sonia Gandhi, leader of the ruling Congress Party in India, while on a landmark visit to Beijing, offered her formulation of a world order on which her country agrees with China: "Both China and India seek an open and inclusive world order based on the principles of 'Panchsheel' that were founded together by (then Chinese Prime Minister) Zhou Enlai and (India's founding father) Jawaharlal Nehru in 1954." (6) Later, Panchsheel became the founding charter of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) that had claimed to be the third pole of power in the bipolar world.

A substantial outcome of this advocacy came about in February 2007 when Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Hu Jintao signed the Declaration on the World Order in the 21st Century. (7) The Declaration called for peaceful coexistence, a just and rational world order, abandonment of unilateralism, and embrace of multilateralism. In its own words, the Declaration stated: "It is necessary to solve differences and disputes in a peaceful way, avoid unilateral action (and) not to resort to the policy of diktat, the threat or use of force ... Every country has the right to manage its affairs in a sovereign way and international issues should be resolved through dialogue and consultations on the basis of multilateral collective approaches." (8) Similarly India, in its bilateral relations with China and Russia, boldly spells out its vision of a world of shared governance.

Trilateral Dialogue: China, India and Russia

The growing convergence in the worldview of China, India and Russia brought them into a trilateral dialogue, which in Chinese President Hu's words would see "the three nations work together for further communication and coordination in major international and regional issues and promote the solution of disputes and differences through dialogue. …

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