External Affairs

No Headway in Swaraj-Wang Talks on NSG, Nuclear Can Kicked to Officials

Discussions were held in a “positive, constructive and open spirit” say sources but the gulf on key issues appears to remain as wide as ever.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi during a meeting in New Delhi on Saturday. Credit: PTI/Kamal Kishore

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi during a meeting in New Delhi on Saturday. Credit: PTI/Kamal Kishore

New Delhi: India’s quest for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group dominated the discussion between external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and her visiting Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on Saturday, with the two sides agreeing to let their respective director generals of disarmament “meet soon”. To what end, however, was not specified.

Wang’s visit had come in the wake of a bit of a strain in ties ever since India’s attempt to join the NSG did not pass muster at the plenary meeting of the 48-nation group in Seoul in June. India has publicly singled out China (“one country”) for scuttling India’s chances by raising “procedural hurdles”.

Wang held a three-hour long discussion with Swaraj on Saturday afternoon, which covered both “progress” and “challenges” in bilateral relations. The Chinese foreign minister arrived in Delhi on Thursday night after a sojourn at Goa to inspect preparations for the BRICS summit, which will be attended by President Xi Jinping.

Earlier in the day, the Chinese foreign minister called on Prime Minister Modi for a 20-minute meeting to brief  him about the upcoming G-20 summit in China.

South Block sources described the Swaraj-Wang discussions on India’s membership of NSG as “lengthy”, with Swaraj again laying out the case for Indian entry into the nuclear club. She reprised India’s position that membership would give confidence to foreign investors keen on investing in an expanding Indian nuclear power industry, and thereby help India in “meeting our clean energy goals in the context of COP-21”.

With India offering to discuss “any technical issues” over which China may have doubts, the two foreign ministers agreed that the “director generals of disarmament of the two countries would meet soon”, the sources said.

They added that no dates had been decided for such a meeting. If it takes place within the next few months, joint secretary (disarmament and international security affairs) Amandeep Singh Gill and Chinese foreign ministry’s director general, department of arms control, Wang Qun will be meeting face-to-face after their previous encounter at Seoul.

Unlike a stereotypically reticent Chinese diplomat, the bow tie-wearing Wang Qun had been unusually public in dismissing India’s membership quest even before the official NSG plenary statement was issued. Speaking to reporters in Seoul, he repeated China’s position that NPT membership was a “must” to be a member of NSG and that India’s candidacy should be seen in that framework. Since then, at least one other NSG member that raised procedural questions at Seoul – Mexico – has said publicly that membership of the NSG and NPT should not be mixed up.

Official sources said that in Saturday’s talks, neither India nor China deviated from its position, but nor was any such conclusion expected in this meeting – given that Modi and Xi failed to make headway when they met in Tashkent in June.

Despite media speculation, the Chinese minister did not bring up the South China Sea issue during his talks, the sources added.

After the UN-backed Arbitral Tribunal had ruled in favour of Philippines’s plea in the disputed Spratly Islands and negated China’s nine-dash line, India had “noted” the judgment, called for “self-restraint” from all sides and “utmost respect” for UNCLOS. But unlike the US, Australia, Japan and Vietnam, India did not tell China to abide by the judgment.

Pakistan also figured tangentially in the talks, with Swaraj again expressing India’s protests over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor passing through Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. At the all-party meeting on Friday, Prime Minister Modi had stressed India’s claim to PoK, stating that it was the fourth part of Kashmir after Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.

Swaraj also asked China to “revisit” its technical hold on the listing of Jaish-e-Mohammad leader Masood Azhar in the UNSC sanctions committee. “China urged to revisit its technical hold in line with its own professed zero tolerance towards terrorism,” said sources.

Indian officials said the discussions were held in a “positive, constructive and open spirit”. The two ministers did find good news in “positive assessment expanding investments, more infrastructure cooperation, easier visas, greater tourism and expanded cultural, academic and civil society interactions”.

For the first time, a new layer of institutionalised interaction will be added to bilateral ties at the level of foreign secretary. Sources said that the remit of their interaction would be to cover all political and strategic issues at regular intervals.

On the bilateral front, the border situation was “reviewed”, and steps to strengthen peace and tranquility discussed. There had been recent reports of ‘incursions’ by Chinese troops in Uttarakhand, but these were dismissed by both sides.

The sources added that there was also exchange of views on international issues like Brexit, United Nations Security Council reforms and the agenda of the forthcoming multilateral summits – G-20, ASEAN and BRICS. The situation in Korean peninsula also figured, where China has been rather vocal about its unhappiness at the deployment of the the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system by US in South Korea.