External Affairs

In China, Pranab Raises NSG, Terrorism Issues, But in Tone that Belies Media Hype

Beijing: India sought China’s cooperation at the United Nations in the fight against cross-border terrorism and called on Beijing to play a positive role in ensuring a “predictable environment” for India’s pursuit of nuclear energy – code words for Indian  membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the rule-setting cartel of nuclear exporters whose norms the Indian side is committed to implementing without having a say in their formulation.

President Pranab Mukherjee raised the two hot-button issues in his talks with Chinese president Xi Jinping on May 26, his last formal dialogue in a four-day visit to China that took him to Guangzhou and Beijing, but did so in a manner that Indian officials said was intended to be constructive rather than confrontationist.

Describing Mukherjee’s talks with Xi, and with Chinese premier Li Keqiang, foreign secretary S. Jaishankar said the president underlined the fact that there was a “national consensus” in India on the pursuit of good relations with China. On his part, Xi and Li spoke of the increasing uncertainties at the global level and said it was important for India and China to increase their level of cooperation with each other bilaterally and at international fora.

Though China has gone public with its opposition to Indian membership of the NSG – its foreign ministry spokesperson has stated  that countries like India (and Pakistan and Israel) that are not signatories to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) are not entitled to automatic membership of the group – Jaishankar said Mukherjee said India would not be able to pursue its plans to increase the use of nuclear energy for electricity generation unless the country and its partners faced a stable and predictable set of international rules.

Hewing to the argument successive Indian governments have made since 2004 when it seriously began seeking an end to international restrictions on the sale of nuclear equipment to the country, Mukherjee said India had a responsibility to provide energy to its people without contributing to the global problem of climate change. This is possible only with nuclear power, he said.

Jaishankar, who met separately with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi to discuss the NSG issue, said Xi responded positively to Mukherjee’s request that he give the matter his personal attention and that the matter would now be taken up again by the relevant officials.

On terrorism, where India has been pushing China to cooperate in the international blacklisting of Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar, Mukherjee spoke of terrorism, especially cross-border terrorism, being a common threat. “The president said there were no good or bad terrorists and that India and China need to work together at the UN to deal with this threat,” said Jaishankar. Broadly speaking, there was acceptance of India’s concerns, he added.

The Chinese foreign ministry, which also briefed reporters after Mukherjee’s meeting with Xi, gave a blander readout of issues close to the Indian heart and chose to highlight not the nuclear or terrorism questions but the resolve of the two leaders to pursue existing mechanisms for speedy resolution of the border issue.

The two presidents “discussed counter terrorism cooperation and they agreed to seek counter-terrorism cooperation exchanges under the framework such the UN, BRICS and other international frameworks”, a Chinese spokesperson said.  Asked about the NSG, the spokesperson said “the two heads of state did not mention exactly the issue about accession to the NSG but they mentioned the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. They agreed to strengthen cooperation and exchanges in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.”