New Delhi: Two days after Indian foreign secretary S. Jaishankar made an unannounced visit to Beijing to press India’s case for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj asserted on Sunday that she was “confident” of being able to convince China to join the ‘growing’ consensus on admitting Indian in to NSG this year.
Jaishankar was in Beijing on June 16-17, where he met with foreign minister Wang Yi and discussed “all major issues, including India’s NSG membership”, MEA sources told reporters.
Swaraj said that when the NSG waived its export embargo on India in 2008, “a criteria had been set, a process had been readied”. “So instead of talking of criteria [for membership], our credentials should be spoken of,” she said at her annual press conference on Sunday. India has not only fulfilled all commitments undertaken at the time of waiver, “but has gone one step ahead”.
This was the point the foreign secretary had also made in China, she said.
A senior official familiar with the interaction told The Wire that the government was now “very optimistic going forward”.
Jaishankar’s interaction will now be followed up at the highest level with Prime Minister Narendra Modi travelling to Tashkent for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit on June 23-24. There, he is expected to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines.
The NSG’s plenary – where the issue of membership is to be thrashed out – will be held June 21-24 in Seoul, South Korea.
China is currently the biggest roadblock to evolving a consensus to approve the Indian bid to become an NSG ‘participating government’ – the term the cartel uses for members. After the June 9 working-level NSG meeting in Vienna, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson had noted that members “remain divided”, with Beijing continuing to link NSG membership with being a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)
Making an effort to not paint Beijing into a corner, Swaraj said, “China has not opposed India’s membership. It has talked of criteria-based approach”. She left unsaid the fact that the Chinese demand for a ‘criteria’ based approach for non-NPT countries is seen by Indian officials, as a delaying tactic to close the doors of NSG, at least for the next couple of years.
Striking an optimistic note, she said that there were still some days left till the Seoul meeting. “We are hopeful of being able to convince China by then,” added Swaraj.
The visit of the foreign secretary was part of the NDA government’s drive to create momentum for Indian membership. Modi had included Mexico and Switzerland in his itinerary, partly to get their support for India’s application.
He has also been regularly calling up world leaders – including Russian President Vladimir Putin and British prime minister David Cameron º to press for India’s case
Due to her hospitalisation last month, Swaraj has not been able to travel, but has instead busy making phone calls to her counterparts.
“I have myself called up 23 countries. A few have some queries, while others have given support straightaway,” she said.
Swaraj believes that there is “a consensus being built” in favour of India, which she hoped “no other country will try to disrupt”. “We hope to join the NSG this year,” he said.
On Pakistan’s application for NSG membership, Swaraj reiterated India’s position which seeks to end international anxiety that New Delhi will use its membership to prevent a consensus over – and hence block – Islamabad’s eventual entry.
“We are not a member of NSG, so we don’t have a role. But, we don’t want to stop the membership of any country. It should be based on merit,” she said. New Delhi, of course, believes that Pakistan will not ‘merit’ entry due to its previous record of nuclear proliferation and lack of alignment of export controls with the international regimes.
A query about the possibility of India failing to join this year was parried by Swaraj. “When we stand for election for Lok Sabha, we practice not to hear such questions. If we are striving, we have to be focused. So, I haven’t really heard your question,” she answered.
There have been questions that India was expending too much diplomatic capital on the bid to join NSG, especially when the outcome was very uncertain.
“Why are we pushing now? It is about the difference between sitting inside and outside the room. Despite the waiver, we were outside the room. When you are inside the room, then you take part in the decision-making,” Swaraj asserted.
While discussions about India’s membership had been going on for the last five years, she said the change in circumstance this year was the commitments made by India at the COP-21 climate change summit.
“When we announced our INDC [intended nationally determined contribution], we said that 40% of energy will be from non-fossil fuel. Out of that one- third will be nuclear. An investor requires predictability… Membership of the NSG will help in bringing a predictable environment for big investment”.
With China not having indicated any change in its position, there is still uncertainty in New Delhi that NSG members will be able to reach consensus over the issue in time. Besides China, Turkey, Austria, New Zealand and South Africa also have reservations, mainly due to discomfort over bringing in a non-NPT member into NSG, especially when the group was formed in response to India’s 1974 nuclear test.
That said, the NSG never drew a tight linkage between nuclear exports and ‘full scope’ international safeguards – a requirement every NPT member other than the five official nuclear weapon states must adhere to – until after the firat Iraq war of 1991.
Sources said that even if there was no decision in June, there is hope that the rising momentum will lead to India getting the green signal in the next NSG meeting later this year.
There are some countries who would like India to make some special announcements – just as Pranab Mukherjee did in 2008, reaffirming India’s commitment to non-proliferation and disarmament goals and a voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing.
The British readout of the Modi-Cameron phone call on June 16 mentions that both leaders “agreed that in order for the bid to be successful it would be important for India to continue to strengthen its non-proliferation credentials, including by reinforcing the separation between civil and military nuclear activity”.