The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) kept on hold India’s request for membership on Friday after several countries led by China refused to adjust rules that require New Delhi to first sign a global arms control pact.
A disappointed India said, in an unusually sharp but veiled reference to China, that one country persistently created “procedural hurdles”, a byword for Beijing’s insistence New Delhi sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
New Delhi had gone to Seoul without any certainty of victory. It had hoped intense lobbying, which included cross-continent diplomatic campaigns by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a last-minute meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, would help deal with the procedural necessities for a non-NPT member’s entry into the NSG.
But it was clear on Friday that the Chinese opposition had encouraged six others to also raise procedural points about India’s entry into the grouping that controls access to nuclear materials and technology.
“We understand that despite procedural hurdles persistently raised by one country, a three-hour-long discussion took place last night on the issue of future participation in the NSG,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said.
“The NSG plenary in Seoul earlier in the day decided against granting India membership of the grouping immediately and said it will continue to have discussions on participation of countries which have not signed the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty.”
China is leading opposition to a push by the United States to bring India into the NSG. Beijing’s all-weather ally, Pakistan, which hasn’t signed the NPT either, is also seeking membership.
A statement from the NSG also reinforced the centrality of NPT to the NSG membership, though the bloc didn’t shut the door at the future participation of countries which have not signed the pact.
“Participating governments reiterated their firm support for the full, complete and effective implementation of the NPT as the cornerstone of the international non-proliferation regime,” it said.
The word “implementation” was put in as part of last ditch attempt by the Western nations to leave a slight door for India in future. This implies India need only abide by the NPT rather than sign it.
The statement also said the NSG had discussions on the issue of “technical, legal and political aspects of the participation of non-NPT states in the NSG and decided to continue its discussion”.
India’s membership was overwhelmingly backed by the US, Japan, Russia, Britain and France. Procedural questions were raised by Iceland, Ireland, Austria, Belgium, Brazil and Turkey, besides China.
In New Delhi, the setback handed the opposition Congress an opportunity to attack Modi’s foreign policy as a “spectacle” that had unnecessarily embarrassed the country.
“We do not know why India showed its desperation and allowed the country to be equated with Pakistan on the issue of NSG membership,” party spokesman Anand Sharma said.
“It’s high time that Prime Minister Narendra Modi realises that diplomacy requires gravitas, depth and seriousness. PM Modi needs to realise diplomacy needs depth not public tamasha.”