China is not opposing India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), foreign minister Sushma Swaraj said on Sunday, underscoring the government’s efforts to convince Beijing to give up its defiant stand.
Her statement came after an unannounced visit by foreign secretary S Jaishankar to Beijing on June 16 and 17 to drum up Chinese support for India’s push to join the 48-nation club controlling access to sensitive nuclear technology.
“China is talking only about criteria and procedures” and is not opposed to India becoming an NSG member, Swaraj said, addressing her annual press conference.
The group, set up in response to India’s first nuclear test in 1974, aims to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. But India enjoys most of the benefits of membership under a 2008 exemption to NSG rules, granted to support its nuclear cooperation deal with Washington, though the country has never signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the arms control pact. China has been maintaining that the NPT is central to the NSG.
Foreign minister Swaraj was hopeful that India would be able to convince China.
“I think there is a consensus which is being made and I am sure that India will become an NSG member this year,” she said. “I’m in contact with 23 nations … one or two raised concern but I think there is a consensus.”
The NSG works on the principle of consensus and a single hold-out country can spoil India’s chance to be part of the grouping.
New Delhi is making all efforts before the NSG plenary session in Seoul on June 24, where India’s membership is expected to be discussed. Jaishankar’s visit to Beijing came a week ahead of the plenary.
“Yes, I can confirm the foreign secretary visited Beijing on June 16-17 for bilateral consultations with his Chinese counterpart. All major issues, including India’s NSG membership, were discussed,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said.
Chinese official media had commented that India’s NSG membership would “jeopardise” China’s national interests besides touching a “raw nerve” in Pakistan. The Chinese foreign ministry too called for “full discussions” on non-NPT countries intending to join the NSG.
But Swaraj pointed out that India’s credentials should be discussed, instead of talking about criteria.
The minister refused comments on Pakistan’s push to join the NSG, saying India cannot say anything since it’s not a member of the elite club.
“We will not oppose entry of any nation to the NSG. We think that the application of each country should be considered on the basis of their merit,” she said.
Pakistan joining the group would be unacceptable to many, given its track record. The father of its nuclear weapons programme, AQ Khan, ran an illicit network for years that sold nuclear secrets to countries, including North Korea and Iran.
During Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Washington, President Barack Obama came out in support of India’s membership in the nuclear group. Russian President Vladimir Putin too backed India’s bid and hoped that issues raised by China could be ironed out.
(With agency inputs)