India – China rift out in open

The plenary meeting of the 48-member NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) in Seoul ended on June 24 with no specific reference to India’s application as a partici­pating government. China supported by a few other nations was able to block any meaningful discussion on the subject – much to In­dia’s disappointment.

This inconclusive result, for sure, is a tactical set­back for Prime Minister Na­rendra Modi’s government but not quite the disaster that some voices in the po­litical spectrum have made it out to be. However, the fallout of Seoul can have long-term implications for the India-China bilateral relationship and the relat­ed realization of the ‘Asian century’.

Apropos Seoul, the first question that needs to be addressed objectively is whether formal admission to the NSG as a participat­ing government is a desir­able objective for India to pursue. The context is that Delhi was accorded an exceptional waiver in late 2008 by the same group -the NSG which enabled it to engage in nuclear com­merce.

The short answer is yes – the objective is desirable. The non-linear benefits of such status are not insignif­icant. The NSG represents one forum of global nucle­ar regulation-cum-gover­nance and being part of this grouping for Delhi, which till recently was both an out­sider and an outcaste – is both victory and vindication for its principled stand on the complex nuclear issue.

Concurrently, being a member of the NSG or a non-member has an em­bedded collateral benefit in the intricate nuclear materi­al and technology supplier chain. If India is to realize its ambitious civilian nu­clear programme, many commercial agreements with a large range of glob­al suppliers would have to be concluded swiftly. And Indian entities would bene­fit by Delhi being listed as a participating government in the export control proce­dures with a non-linear link­age to risk-insurance-safe­ty clauses; again, tangible benefits in the long run that are not to be scoffed at.

While noting that the outcome of Seoul is disap­pointing, there is a related political strand which merits notice. The China factor in the global nuclear conduct has become unambiguous­ly visible. To the extent that nuclear restraint, fidelity to non-proliferation and recti­tude in husbanding nuclear material and knowhow are the benchmarks of nuclear capable powers, Beijing has skilfully ensured that the de­viant has become the norm.

China, which became a nuclear weapon power in October 1964, is a recent entrant to the global nuclear fold – it signed the NPT (Nu­clear Non-Proliferation Trea­ty) only in 1992 and joined the NSG in 2004. However in the mid-1980s Beijing entered into a strategic re­lationship with the Pakistan military that included the transfer of nuclear weapons and missiles. When charged with transgression of its NPT/NSG commitments, Beijing claimed that all its actions were pre-1992.

The global nuclear domain punctuated by the Hiroshi­ma-Fukushima trajectory is characterized by many con­tradictions, carefully embroi­dered narratives and a rhe­torical commitment to high principle even while being mediated by cynical realpoli­tik compulsions.

The Chinese narrative in summary is that Beijing’s nuclear weapons enhance global stability and securi­ty, similar Indian capability is de-stabilizing and Pakistan needs both nuclear weapons and an investment in terror groups to balance India; and A.Q. Khan is a fictional char­acter.

Thus Beijing, which re­luctantly endorsed the 2008 NSG consensus to accord India an exceptional nuclear status, has cited procedures in 2016 and invoked the NPT to successfully filibuster the Seoul proceedings.

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