China stalls India’s bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group
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India’s efforts to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) have been stalled again when the 48-member body ended its two-day plenary on last month without a decision on New Delhi’s membership bid. The next plenary meet is reportedly scheduled in Switzerland in 2017. The rejection at the NSG somewhat took the sheen off from India’s recent entry into the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). India became its 35th member and the forum has denied membership to China.
For the uninitiated, India wants to join the 48-member NSG to further its strategic, commercial and foreign policy goals. The NSG was basically formed in the wake of India’s first nuclear test in 1974 and to put in place a stringent regime to prevent its members entering in nuclear ties with non-NPT members.
A formal membership will firmly establish New Delhi’s nuclear nonproliferation credentials as well as giving it a greater say in establishing the rules governing nuclear trade. An Indian membership in the NSG will expand our access to international markets and state-of-the-art foreign technologies. Moreover, as an outsider presently, New Delhi lacks the ability to shape future agenda, which in an extreme worst-case scenario could go back to pre-2005 status as well.
Diplomatically, the NSG proved to be a setback for the current foreign policy establishment. Critics say India made a serious miscalculation by hoping that the U.S. backing would be alone enough to secure a consensus within the group. Prior to the Seoul meeting, India had declared its motive to join the NSG and backing it up with hectic diplomatic parleys with member nations. This also included Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Tashkent during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit. This, however, did not prevent Beijing from openly and decisively blocking India’s membership bid even as New Delhi was largely able to build a broad consensus in its favour.
China stymied international consensus to include India in the NSG on the ground that a country needed to be a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) for this. Beijing maintains, through various policy papers from its government establishments, that according special status to India will defeat the purpose of the NPT as well as raise similar demands by other nuclear power, notably Pakistan and Israel. Chinese stand is in contrast to its 2008 position when it backed special waiver for India to receive nuclear fuel and technology for civilian purposes.
That said, in the immediate term, India has nothing to worry about as it has signed long-term bilateral agreements with multiple countries, including France, Russia, and the U.S. for importing uranium, reactors, and fuel cycle technologies. Even with or without a NSG membership, India’s enhanced cooperation with other countries depends on other factors as well especially after the Fukushima disaster. Many countries are reviewing their interest in the sector after the Fukushima disaster, which likely will have an impact on the international trade and technology transfer in the sector in future.
India will have to be more realistic and pragmatic in future in its diplomatic efforts without giving up on its goal of joining the grouping. The value of a membership in the NSG cannot be underestimated although not being a member has not prevented India from advancing its interests in nuclear energy sector. This is largely due to New Delhi’s civil nuclear cooperation deal with the U.S. in 2005, which ended India’s nuclear pariah status. The cooperation with the U.S. later facilitated the NSG waiver and partial safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2008 without having to sign the NPT.
It would be interesting to see the trajectory of India-China ties in coming months. New Delhi’s initial reaction to Chinese position came in the form of a tough statement, which later was toned down. Both countries have been able to compartmentalize problem areas such as territorial demarcation and boundary issues and achieve progress on trade and commerce.
India needs Chinese investment in infrastructure projects. But at the same time, New Delhi will have to factor in areas where the two countries have contradicting interests and its impact on other areas.
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