NSG PLENARY

No Forward Movement On India’s NSG Membership; China Still Opposed

Surya Gangadharan New Delhi 23 June 2019

There are some who would credit the “Wuhan Spirit” with eventually persuading China to see reason on the issue of Masood Azhar. If this is true, is the Wuhan Spirit running out of steam?

A case in point is the just concluded plenary of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in Kazakhstan. Any hopes that China would dilute its opposition to India’s entry into the NSG were quickly dashed. The plenary concluded on Friday with no movement on India’s admission.

China insisted it was not at fault. It’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Lu Kang said: “There is no blocking by certain members. Because there are procedures in the NSG and members make decisions based on the procedures and proceedings. Before reaching a specific plan, the NSG will not discuss the participation of NPT non-party countries. So there was no discussion on India’s participation.”

Behind the convoluted words, China was making the point it has made earlier: that since India has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, it cannot be considered for admission into the NSG. The NSG does require member states to be NPT signatories but doing so would seriously affect India’s nuclear status.

The NPT recognises as nuclear weapon states only those countries that had tested atomic devices before 1967. In effect, India would have to dismantle its nuclear weapons if it signs the NPT, rendering the country vulnerable to blackmail and intimidation by nuclear armed neighbours such as China. India was also miffed by the fact that while the NPT was set up to halt the proliferation of nuclear weapons, it set no deadlines for their elimination.

What’s so special about the NSG? It regulates the worldwide trade in nuclear materials and some of its 48 members (U.S., Russia, Japan) have the best in nuclear technologies. Admission gives India a position on the nuclear high-table where it can ensure new rules do not harm its interests, while enabling it to tap new technologies. It will also open the door to India being able to market its 300-700 megawatt nuclear power stations. India can do so even now but only at the cost of undercutting an established international order.

What happens now? It seems the Trump administration is not as committed to seeing India in the NSG as perhaps the Obama administration was. Then again it’s not even clear if Trump places any value on the NSG. Which leaves the field open to China and a handful of other countries (Ireland, Turkey, South Africa, Austria, New Zealand) to keep India out.

Here’s hoping that even if the Wuhan Spirit is out of steam, maybe the forthcoming Varanasi informal summit of Modi and Xi Jinping could come up with a workable NSG solution.

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