Seoul: China remained the last major obstacle in the way of India’s membership bid in the Nuclear Suppliers Group as 47 of 48 members supported New Delhi’s application at the group’s special plenary session in Seoul on Thursday.
The session debated until midnight but failed to come to a conclusion after hours of discussions, with China adamant in its opposition. Questions and doubts by other fence-sitting countries dissolved in the course of the evening, leaving China as the last man standing against India. Officials in Seoul said the meeting would restart on Friday. After Thursday’s NSG meeting, delegations were asked to revert to their headquarters for fresh instructions.
China raised a procedural block early in the day, refusing to admit the India membership issue to be discussed in the meeting. This, diplomats in the room said, caused a delay of over five hours, as the members wrestled with an agenda item. Finally, it was decided to discuss a heavily worded agenda on “political, legal and technical issues of non-NPT countries’ membership. The discussions began at 9pm and ended around midnight, but remained in a deadlock.
Indian officials will be lobbying hard with the members before the meeting begins on Friday morning. The US is also expected to be working the phones on India’s behalf.
Earlier Thursday afternoon, PM Narendra Modi delivered a candid message to Chinese President Xi Jinping who he met for a bilateral on the sidelines of the SCO summit in Tashkent. Sources said Modi conveyed to Xi New Delhi’s expectation that China would support India in the NSG, a position that suggests that continued opposition will impact ties.
The 45-minute Modi-Xi meeting was almost entirely devoted to the NSG issue and China’s opposition. A readout of the meeting was given by official spokesperson Vikas Swarup who said, “PM Modi urged China to make a fair and objective assessment of India’s application and judge it on its own merit. He said China should contribute to the emerging consensus in Seoul.”
Until late Thursday evening however, Chinese diplomats in Seoul held on to their tough stand against India. Brazil and South Africa, two other members of BRICS, stood behind India, as did Russia. The consensus emerged through the evening’s discussions, with countries like Ireland, Switzerland and Austria, even Brazil raising questions on process – but these whittled down to supporting India’s candidature. Turkey stuck to its position of supporting India and Pakistan. However, Pakistan’s NSG bid was not discussed at length, however the presence of the application was the reason for a lot of discussion on non-NPT countries.
China’s continued obduracy raises serious questions in the Indian government about the value of organisations like BRICS, RIC or even BASIC, where India and China are believed to be working together. If China continues with its opposition, sources said there could be consequences for bilateral relations with Beijing, because it would be a direct refusal to an Indian head of the government.
The meeting in Seoul began with the outgoing Argentine chair Rafael Grossi presenting a positive report on India’s commitments and compliance. South Korea, which took over the chairmanship of the nuclear cartel steered the discussion on India’s membership, said sources.
China’s stand might wreck India’s chances this time if Beijing continues to hold out. But the fact that India has mounted such a huge diplomatic exercise will play to India’s advantage going forward. All eyes now will be on the last minute role that the US and other big supporters of India play on Friday to help bring China around.
Meanwhile, Xi met Pakistan President Mamnoon Hussain in Tashkent, where the two sides reaffirmed their strong bonds , describing themselves as “iron brothers”. A Pakistan foreign ministry statement quoted Pak president as saying, “exception given for NSG membership could disturb strategic stability in South Asia.”