Hours after Washington reiterated its support for New Delhi’s bid to join the NSG, China toned down on Tuesday its opposition to India’s admission to the elite club by saying members were open to discussing the inclusion of all countries that have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The position adopted by China marked a shift from its assertion on Monday that India’s application to join the 48-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) was not on the agenda of the organisation’s plenary meeting in Seoul on June 23-24.
“The door is still open within the NSG for non-NPT members to join,” foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said.
“There is always room for discussion,” Hua said, adding the topic of including non-NPT countries in the NSG could “probably” come up during the bloc’s annual plenary session in Seoul.
“We did not target any country, India or Pakistan. We only care about the non-proliferation treaty,” she added.
The NPT is the “cornerstone” of the NSG and the non-proliferation regime, she said. “The NSG members should focus on whether the criteria (of admitting new members) should be changed,” Hua added.
On Monday, the US again called on NSG member nations to back India’s application for membership at the plenary in Seoul. “We believe, and this has been US policy for some time, that India is ready for membership and the US calls on participating governments to support India’s application,” White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said.
He acknowledged the member nations will have to reach consensus to admit any applicant and the US will be “advocating for India’ membership”. Asked if the US had discussed India’s membership with the Chinese, state department spokesperson John Kirby said the US has discussed the application with other NSG members.
The NSG functions by consensus and opposition from even one member will mean that India will not be able to gain entry to the organisation controlling access to sensitive nuclear technology.
China, which is perceived to be acting at the behest of its “all-weather ally” Pakistan, has blocked India’s bid by linking it to the NPT. The 48-member group, set up in response to India’s first nuclear test in 1974, aims to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
Both India and Pakistan have not signed the NPT. Days after India filed its application, Pakistan too made a similar bid to join the NSG.
The Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said Beijing’s principle is the NPT and that it is very clear NSG members have differing opinions whether non-NPT members can join the group.
“We are now talking about all non-NPT members as a whole, not specifically about one country,” Hua said. The US, she said, was the country which made the rule that non-NPT countries should not be allowed to join the NSG.
(With inputs from HTC, Washington)