New Delhi: India’s first formal bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group failed on Friday after China and several other members insisted that accession to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty remains a key criterion for joining the cartel.
After Thursday night’s special session ended inconclusively, diplomats from the NSG’s 48 member countries resumed their discussions in the morning only to conclude that there was no possibility of forward movement.
In a public statement issued at the end of the June 23-24 plenary meeting, the NSG said simply that “discussions on the issue of “Technical, Legal and Political Aspects of Participation of non-NPT States” were held. Indicating that there was no agreement, the statement noted that the group had “decided to continue discussion”.
The two-page statement also reiterated the NSG members’ “firm support for the full, complete and effective implementation of the NPT as the cornerstone of the international non-proliferation regime”.
Even before the NSG’s readout, the chief Chinese negotiator in Seoul, Wang Qun, went public on the lack of consensus, telling reporters that India’s membership application was not on the agenda of the NSG plenary, ANI reported.
“One thing is clear that India’s membership has never ever been taken up as an agenda item. In the two plenary sessions, there was no extraordinary session on this matter. There is no such agenda matter. In the caveat there could be observations and interventions but that’s all,” said Wang, who is director-general of the arms control department in the Chinese foreign ministry.
Stating that Beijing attaches “great importance” to India’s ‘sentiments’, Wang said that the criterion of NPT membership being a “must” was a rule “that was not by China, but by the group as a whole”.
“China doesn’t support Pakistan or India to enter NSG until they follow rules established by members. NSG consensus is in favour of the Non Proliferation Treaty, hope India will join NPT first. The meeting on Thursday [night] was an effort to find consensus on non-NPT state applications, but differences remain,” Wang said.
Rejecting the suggestion made by Indian officials that Beijing was isolated and that the 47 other members all stood against it, Wang added that there were other countries besides China who were also grappling with the question of admission of non-NPT states. “There are nations which have appreciated the efforts India has made for the NSG but in the mean time, hoped that its membership could be considered within the framework of the NPT. In fact, the NPT is really an issue.”
India’s response was to say that while India’s candidature was not part of the official agenda, its application had definitely been on the table .
“India was not of course in the room. But we understand from our friends and well-wishers that discussions on expansion of membership, or what is called “participation” in NSG, were certainly not hypothetical,” said MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup.
He noted that while India may have formally applied on May 12, its engagement with the NSG began 12 years ago. “A decision on civil nuclear cooperation with India was adopted by consensus by the NSG in September 2008. Subsequent to that, regular discussions with NSG have taken place. The point to note is that this is not a new subject. In fact, it is one that has been discussed within the NSG at every Plenary since 2011,” he added.
India’s foreign secretary S Jaishankar, along with MEA joint secretary (disarmament and internal security) Amandeep Gill, has been camping in Seoul to hold talks with national delegations in the South Korean capital.
In a statement, the MEA spokesperson directly blamed “one country” (read: China) for raising “procedural hurdles”, despite which “a three-hour long discussion took place last night on the issue of future participation in the NSG”.
Modi had met with Xi on the sidelines of the SCO summit in Tashkent, just as the special session began on Thursday night. Earlier, the foreign secretary had also made a quiet dash to Beijing to present India’s case. Clearly, China remained unmoved.
As The Wire reported on the first day of the plenary, China spent five hours on June 23 raising technical obstacles and refusing to allow the question of India’s candidature to be taken up as an agenda item.
Vikas Swarup thanked the “overwhelming number of countries” for speaking up for India’s membership at the special session.
“An overwhelming number of those who took the floor supported India’s membership and appraised India’s application positively. We thank each and every one of them. It is also our understanding that the broad sentiment was to take this matter forward,” he said.
Sources said that while around 30 countries spoke in favour of India on Thursday night, a total of 38 members had backed India, while “7-8” countries advocated a transparent, non-discriminatory process. China, they said, was the only to not even favour discussion and was thus in a “class of its own”, even if it could well say that it was not the only country to speak about the need for NPT-linked criteria.
Swarup made it clear that India did not view other countries who raised matters of ‘process’ as being opposed to New Delhi’s membership – a point he did not make with regard to the “one country”.
“It is also our understanding that most countries want an early decision. A few countries raised issues regarding the process for India’s participation in the NSG. It is self-evident that process issues would not arise if these countries were actually opposed to our participation. This is corroborated by our own bilateral engagement with each of these countries,” he said.
Brazil, Ireland, Austria, New Zealand, Turkey and Switzerland had raised questions about the process to be adopted for bringing in a non-NPT signatory into the fold.
Switzerland was one of those countries that had assured India of its support when Prime Minister Modi visited Berne earlier this month.
On the call to sign the NPT before joining NSG, he said that India’s stance was “well known”, reiterating that it was not negotiable. “But let me underline that in September 2008, the NSG itself addressed this issue. Paragraph 1 (a) of the September 2008 decision states that the decision on India contributes to the “widest possible implementation of the provisions and objectives of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons”. There is thus no contradiction between the NPT and India’s closer engagement with the NSG,” said Swarup.
Stating that an “early decision” on the Indian application will be in “larger global interest”, Swarup said that Indian participation would “further strengthen nuclear non-proliferation and make global nuclear commerce more secure”.
“It would advance energy security and make a difference to combating climate change,” he added, reiterating that “early positive decision by the NSG would have allowed us to move forward on the Paris Agreement”.
“Our application has acquired an immediacy in view of India’s INDC envisaging 40% non-fossil power generation capacity by 2030,” he reminded.
Swarup concluded that India was “confident that the NSG will recognise these benefits as it deliberates further on this issue.”
Later in the day, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying was true to form in insisting that the entry of India and other non-NPT states was not on the agenda.
“So it does not make sense to say that China objects their entry. We have seen some media reports in this report. Hope relevant media when making such kinds of reports clear all the facts to avoid misleading the public,” Hua said.
There was “major progress” at the plenary session, with China “working positively and constructively to that end”.
Asserting that China is ready to continue talks about the entry of non-NPT states through “creative means”, she noted that NSG rules – that is, signing onto NPT – have to be strictly enforced as they “are not directed against any specific country”.
“We must strive for consensus by thinking out of the box,” she said.
Unlike the US’s active role in 2008 when George Bush had himself led the campaign to convince other world leaders, the scenario has changed eight years later, with Washington remaining largely invisible behind the scenes at the NSG.
Speaking to the press in Hyderabad, US ambassador to India, Richard Verma, said that Washington has been “supportive at the highest possible level and we will continue to do so”.
He pointed out that it was President Barack Obama who had got the ball rolling for India’s bid to become a member of the NSG, six years ago. “We reaffirmed that many times over the years. We worked with India on its membership. We think they present a strong case and have been strongly supportive of its accession (to the NSG),” he said.