External Affairs

China Says No Discussions Held on India’s NSG Membership at Vienna, Members “Remain Divided”

Reiterating the link between the NSG and NPT, China said that the 1968 treaty “provides a political and legal foundation for the international non-proliferation regime as a whole.”

China's President Xi Jinping (R) walks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi (2nd L) during his visit to the Sabarmati river front in Ahmedabad, September 17, 2014. Credit: Reuters/Amit Dave/Files

China’s President Xi Jinping (R) walks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi (2nd L) during his visit to the Sabarmati river front in Ahmedabad, September 17, 2014. Credit: Reuters/Amit Dave/Files

New Delhi: In its first remarks after the meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in Vienna, China has reiterated that the cartel of nuclear trading countries did not discuss the membership of any country who have not signed the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), including India, but added that members “remain divided” over this subject.

On June 9, officials of the NSG countries met in Vienna for an ‘extraordinary’ plenary meeting. Sources here had said that while India was not privy to the meeting, there were many countries who had responded well to New Delhi’s application for a seat in the group.

However, in a separate statement issued on June 12, the China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said that there had been “no deliberation on any items related to the accession to the NSG by India or any other countries that are not signatories to the NPT.”

Lei claimed that the Argentine chair had convened the meeting “with no agenda” and only “to heed opinions from all parties on the outreach of the NSG and prepare for a report to be submitted at the NSG plenary meeting in Seoul later this month”.

Even as China said that there were no discussions at Vienna on the subject, Lei continued with further commentary on the China’s position on India’s membership.

“China has noted that some non-NPT countries aspire to join the NSG. When it comes to the accession by the non-NPT countries, China maintains that the group should have full discussion before forging consensus and making decisions based on agreement,” said the spokesperson. With “full discussion” being a possible euphemism for more time, Beijing seemed to be hinting that the Seoul meeting may not reach any decision.

Reiterating the link between the NSG and the NPT, China said that the 1968 treaty “provides a political and legal foundation for the international non-proliferation regime as a whole.”

“China’s position applies to all the non-NPT countries and targets no one in particular,” added Lei.

Indian officials had commented that China never indicated it was against India’s membership, even during the official discussions behind closed doors. In those talks, India had pointed out that unlike others, New Delhi never proliferated or helped other nuclear programs, thereby, adhered to the spirit of the NPT.

Lei then further pointed out that China is not isolated in the NSG. “The fact is that many countries within the group also share China’s stance. There has been some discussion within the group on the NSG membership of non-NPT countries, but NSG members remain divided on this issue,” he said.

The ‘query’ that framed the statement specifically mentioned New Zealand, Ireland, Turkey, South Africa and Austria, along with China as the main objectors. It also asked whether giving admission to India will “undermine the non-proliferation efforts and is likely to infuriate Pakistan”.

Sources to The Wire had said that while Switzerland and Mexico had given support to India after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit, India was aware that other members were not on the same page yet. From the Indian perspective, the possibility of a positive outcome from the June 20 meeting in Seoul was still open-ended.

In order to meet the considerations of the remaining objectors that there should be a ‘process’ to admit non-NPT country, India has nuanced its position and indicated it has no objection, on principle. US secretary of state John Kerry in his letter on June 3 had said that India would not only take a “merit-based approach”, but also “would not be influenced by extraneous regional issues” in the scrutiny of the new NSG membership application. Pakistan has also applied to join the NSG this time, with China being its main supporter.

China has been unusually articulate in publicly stating its objections on India’s membership application – compared to just politicking behind the scenes in the run-up to the 2008 NSG waiver for New Delhi.

China has been lately supporting Pakistan vociferously, be it the NSG or at the UN by putting a hold on the move to list Jaish-e-Mohammed leader Maulana Masood Azhar as an al-Qaeda/Taliban supporter.