The Final agreement on the 123 nuclear treaty with America successfully completed means that India’s negotiation efforts will now shift to lobby the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) to grant India unconditional right to access nuclear fuel as a legitimate member. Ironing out the final wrinkles in the 123 and returning with a favourable agreement deserves our congratulations. However, the NSG must now also be brought around to support this agreement and guarantee India the right to enter the civilian nuclear market.
The Indo-US civilian nuclear deal has already received wide support from members of the 45 nation NSG group. India has engaged with these countries ever since the July 18, 2005, agreement. Shyam Saran, India’s former foreign secretary, has continued his track II diplomacy with decision makers in these countries. India has already received broad support from Russia, Britain and France. India’s cooperation and growing engagement with Brazil and South Africa under the IBSA framework has also lead these countries to support India’s use of civilian nuclear technology. Australia, too, seems to have veered around to supporting India’s right to civilian nuclear technology. In the past the NSG has always worked on a consensus and Indian interlocutors will hope to achieve this consensus in their favour. Here the position taken by China will be of great importance to India.
So what will determine and influence the Chinese vote? During the recently held South Asian Conference organised by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences at Shenzhen University, attended by the writer, two scholars presented papers on India’s nuclear power and future strategies. Three broad issues will influence the Chinese strategy. First, China will expect the Americans to negotiate with them on this issue, India’s own request will not be enough for them. They will expect America to lift the embargo on any high end, dual technology that is still denied to them. They will also expect American assurances that India’s nuclear status will not threaten China. The Chinese still remember George Fernandez’s 1998 statement when he accused China of being India’s enemy number one!
Secondly, Chinese think tanks have commented on what they identify as the United States “contain China” policy. China has been expressing concern that India’s strategic partnership with the USA, Japan and now Australia in the arc of democracy is directed against China, and is an attempt to undermine its Communist Party rule. China will expect both India and America to pacify and convince China that this particular nuclear deal is not related to any such strategic containment strategy. But China, too, needs to realise that its very lack of transparency regarding its growing military modernisation, its control of the media and dissenting public opinion, lead countries that are answerable to democratically diverse opinion to distrust them. China too must meet the world half way and realise that it is not just its rise that worries other countries, it is also its own complex web of secrecy.
Amongst China’s security specialists, the Pakistan issue is also of importance. Pakistan remains China’s ‘all weather friend’, and initially, the Pakistani nuclear programme was fully supported by China. Pakistan has consistently asked to be treated on par with India on the nuclear issue and has signed an agreement with China to build civilian nuclear plants. China, too, has supported Pakistan’s demand and may ask that Pakistan be given the same status by the NSG before supporting India’s exceptional status. They will also harden their stance within the Security Council regarding imposing further sanctions on Iran. Here, too, China, like the rest of the NSG members, must respect that India, despite not signing the NPT, has adhered to all NPT laws and never been engaged in any kind of proliferation. It has pursued its nuclear status indigenously and never attempted to use its nuclear know how as a bargain with other countries in search of such knowledge. The Pakistani State, on the other hand, is still to clear itself entirely on the AQ Khan case. Iran, too, needs to answer questions on this front.
China and India have a growing bilateral trade relationship and today our increasing interaction includes joint military exercises. India’s genuine need for civilian nuclear technology must not be seen by China as a threat. A positive vote by China within the NSG will lead to enormous mutual trust and remove many of the security hurdles that stand in the way of FDI from Chinese companies. India and China are responsible powers, and policy-makers on both sides are aware that despite a trenchant border problem, it does not serve the interest of either country in creating any conditions that would impact the growing stability and prosperity of the other. Globalisation, despite its detractors, has given space to countries other than the G8 to influence and nurture global policy. It is now up to us to emerge as responsible global players. Cooperative competition is perhaps the way forward.
Ravni Thakur is honorary Director, Euro-Asia Institute and Reader at the Department.of East Asian Studies, University of Delhi