It’s a position of calculated ambiguity. Or, is it unwillingness to displease an “all-weather ally”, Pakistan? As Minister of State in the PMO, Prithviraj Chavan, leaves for Beijing on Monday night, the Chinese view of India’s efforts at clinching the civilian nuclear cooperation remains a conundrum.
Officially, the External Affairs Ministry spokesperson in Beijing has said that his government was studying the draft safeguards agreement between India and the International Atomic Energy Agency. But very little is known about what exactly the Chinese government will do.
Chavan, a seasoned politician, will be on one of the most important diplomatic missions. A green signal from the Chinese at the Nuclear Suppliers Group — an association of 45 countries that controls nuclear trade — is critical to lift sanctions against India.
Critical because all decisions in this informal grouping are taken on the basis of consensus — not by a show of hands or a vote. In such a scenario, the Chinese, should they so desire, can single-handedly hold up India’s efforts at ending its decades-long nuclear isolation.
Senior officials believe that China is not going to make things easy for India at the NSG but, at the same time, it doesn’t want to stand alone in being the “objector” at the Group’s meeting, likely to take place in Germany in the second half of August.
However, the Chinese won’t be unhappy if an Ireland or New Zealand proclaims its opposition to the civil nuclear deal. Also, Beijing will face considerable pressure from Pakistan; Islamabad will want Beijing to block this civil nuclear initiative with New Delhi at the NSG.