India and NSG Membership: Is China at Fault?

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India’s snub at the Nuclear Suppliers Group meeting has been slammed by veteran diplomats with years of experience in the Indian Foreign Service, here is a quick snapshot of why Indian diplomacy slipped on the way to the finishing line of the nuclear suppliers group.

India applied for NSG membership on 12 May 2016, although according to the MEA spokesperson the engagement began some 12 years ago. The point to note, the spokesperson emphasized, was that ‘this is not a new subject’. However India’s hopes for membership were belied at the Seoul plenary session of the 48 NSG member countries meeting; for as the MEA spokesperson put it “one country” raised procedural hurdles consistently. It is a no brainer that he was singling out China for the obstruction.

  • The Chinese delegate to the Seoul plenary Wang Qun, however, maintained that “China does not support Pakistan or India to enter the NSG until they follow rules established by NSG members. NSG consensus is in favor of the NPT, hope India will join first. Rules are not made by China, but by the group as a whole’.


  • At the conclusion of the Seoul meeting the NSG member states issued a two page statement, but the key para was that NSG members reiterated the “firm support for the full, complete and effective implementation of the NPT as the cornerstone of the international non-proliferation regime.”


  • Of note is the fact that all of India’s friends, including the US and France, are a party to this NSG statement!


  • But look a little closer at the NSG and its rules and guidelines. The NSG has already made its rules that cover every aspect of the nuclear trade and it has also spelt out its trigger lists. Complying with the “demands” of the US Congress, India has already harmonized its export control legislation with those of the NSG. The original NSG guidelines were first established in 1978 and subsequently revised in 1992. In 2010 the NSG adopted 54 amendments and issued them in 2013.


  • The crucial point is that under paras 6 and 7 of the new guidelines nuclear trade and re-processing is prohibited with any country that has not signed the NPT.


  • This means that, even if we become full members of the NSG, no country can co-operate with India. But India obtained a waiver in 2008 and that still holds.


  • It is not in the public domain if India protested or contested these new guidelines as clearly the 2010 amendments were set to target India.


  • But these are not technical matters alone. Politics plays a major role. When China decided to supply nuclear reactors to Pakistan in the last few years, under the spurious plea that these were being “grand-fathered”, no NSG member including the US objected, as clearly they should have done for gross violations of NSG guidelines. All 47 NSG members looked the other way and China continues to supply nuclear reactors to Pakistan even as the latter is not under any safe-guarded regime.


  • It is also not in the public domain whether the MEA consulted other stake holders on the proposed initiative that put our President and PM so visibly on line. Certainly as MR Srinivasan, Member of the Atomic Energy Commission, has publicly stated the AEC was not consulted.


  • If our Ambassador to China was consulted, did he not warn that the Chinese position had hardened to a point that they would disregard any request, even if it came from the US? Certainly the US, unlike in 2008, did not take up India’s case at the President’s level, but simply left it to the Secretary of State to write an inconsequential letter pleading for India’s membership. The Chinese would immediately have noticed the difference and concluded that it was not worthwhile spending political capital on a lame duck US administration.


  • Clearly the MEA should have forewarned the political leadership of the state of play in the international arena and the fact that 2016 was vastly different from 2008, particularly as it pertained to the balance of power equation between the US and China. Not only that, but the Sino-Pak nexus has significantly hardened since then. China has demonstrated its capability to look after its client state! There is no point in castigating China when we may not have done our homework.


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