China’s great wall appeared to be crumbling before Indian diplomacy on Thursday. Beijing was left isolated as every other government of the 48-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) spoke at the opening of the Seoul plenary in favour of accepting India into the elite international nuclear technology club.
At the end of the first tense session of the two-day meeting, China found itself isolated over its call for a criteria-based membership that would allow Pakistan to also join the NSG, official sources told Hindustan Times.
China has been trying to block India’s membership by saying entry into the NSG should be limited to countries that have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), a global nuclear arms control pact. India and China’s “all-weather ally”, Pakistan, which too is seeking membership of the NSG, have not signed the NPT.
As the NSG works by consensus, China has the ability to veto India’s entry.
Even as the Seoul meeting was taking place, on the other side of Asia in Uzbekistan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was making a direct appeal to Chinese President Xi Jinping to support India’s entry to the NSG, saying China should make a “fair and objective” assessment of India’s candidature. Modi’s message was described as “very direct.”
At the Seoul meeting, Japan led the way by first raising India’s membership at the NSG meeting. It was seconded by Argentina which presented a report praising India’s nuclear nonproliferation record.
China found itself left high and dry as, one by one, more than 30 NSG members declared their support for India’s joining the group. Contrary to initial reports, Brazil and South Africa were strong backers of India’s membership.
Austria, Ireland, Switzerland and a few others said they supported Indian membership but wanted to know how the induction process would take place. Turkey, seen as Pakistan’s closest friend in the NSG after China, said it supported membership for both countries. However, Pakistan’s application was not even taken up by the other members.
Beijing used a procedural block to hold up the meeting for five hours in the morning. It conceded after an additional clause, separate from the one about India, that the NSG should consider the “political, technical and legal issues” regarding non-NPT members was added. This is seen as a possible fig-leaf for Beijing to take back to Islamabad.
The representatives, after another post-dinner round, broke for the night and contacted their respective governments for further instructions. The formal plenary begins on Friday.
In Tashkent, during his 45-minute meeting with Xi, Modi said China should “join and contribute” to the emerging consensus among NSG members on India’s candidature, according to the external affairs ministry.
Sources said Modi spoke about how India’s entry into the NSG will strengthen the global non-proliferation regime. His meeting with Xi was his first engagement in Tashkent.
There was no official word on the response from Xi, who assured Pakistan President Mamnoon Hussain shortly before the meeting with Modi that China will adopt a “criteria-based approach” for NSG membership that will support Islamabad’s application.
Continued Chinese opposition to India’s membership in the NSG could threaten bilateral relations between the two Asian giants, especially in fora like BRICS, the Russia-India-China triangle and even the climate change bloc BASIC.
But officially Beijing has sought to de-link its position on NSG membership from its ties with India.
“We believe that with regard to the admission of new members a decision shall be made with through discussion within the group,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said ahead of Modi’s meeting with Xi.
“We do not believe that it (Beijing’s position on admitting new members to the NSG) is an issue concerning the bilateral relationship between China and India.”