China won’t soften stand on India's NSG bid like it did in 2008: Expert

  • Sutirtho Patranobis, Hindustan Times, Beijing
  • Updated: Jun 22, 2016 19:33 IST

China “softened” its stand in 2008 to allow India to get a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) but is unlikely to repeat the gesture for New Delhi’s application to join the group, a top Chinese expert on nuclear disarmament said on Wednesday.

The “rationale” behind China’s stand in preventing India from joining the club that controls access to sensitive nuclear technology is the lack of “legitimacy” in New Delhi’s application as it is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), said Han Hua, director of the influential Centre for Arms Control and Disarmament at Peking University. 

“(It was a surprise to me) how China was so acceptable in 2008. China was quite soft on the issue…on the last waiver,” Han, who specialises in nuclear disarmament in south Asia, told Hindustan Times at her office. 

Read: China rules out discussion on India’s NSG bid at Seoul meet, again

In 2008, the NSG – with grudging support from China after a diplomatic row not unlike now – had granted a unique waiver to India whereby New Delhi could access civil nuclear technology without being part of the non-proliferation regime. 

“No room for trade-off now. I see no softening of the stand on either side. To me China has hardened stand a bit. The (2008) waiver was the only exception. Joining the NSG is something different,” Han said. Though she could not rule out any possibility, she said it would be difficult for India to get into the NSG in the short-term. 

All 48 NSG members have to give their consent to welcome a new entrant to the group. 

New nuclear states made China change its thinking in the late 1990s. “The appearance of new nuclear states forced China to think about (nuclear) consequences more clearly,” Han said. 

To Han, it is only the US that differentiates between “good proliferation and bad proliferation” in India’s context. “It was only (former President) George W Bush who talked about good proliferation and bad proliferation,” she said in the context of the India-US civil nuclear deal. 

“To the Chinese, the driving force behind US’s support for the deal was to make India a quasi-strategic ally. The civil nuclear deal wasn’t the driving force.” 

The thinking in China’s strategic circles is that the reason behind India’s quest for NSG membership is international status – not clean energy, as New Delhi has been arguing. 

“What will India get (after NSG membership) that India is not getting now? What it wants, it is getting now from France, Russia, US. Don’t give me the argument about clean energy. Just try to convince China about what India is being blocked from getting now? India is getting everything,” she said. 

Han said India’s twin aims are “status and legitimacy, and which mean a lot for the NPT regime”. 

She said it was the same for China when it became an NSG member in 2004. (China signed the NPT in 1992.) 

“I don’t know what China got (that it wasn’t getting)? Yes, maybe, a say in international matters,” she said. The Pakistan factor behind China leading the charge against India’s inclusion in the NSG is being exaggerated, she added. 

Criteria, and not credentials, was China’s lookout, she indicated. “Pakistan is a factor. If India joins the NSG, Pakistan will want to. North Korea will want to do the same. There is no good or bad proliferation.” 

Han said China is surrounded by nuclear states and more Asian countries want to become nuclear states. “That kind of tendency is very worrying and against China’s interests. Increasing number of nuclear states is not good for China. India’s inclusion will not be a good example for the region,” she said.

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