Beijing: India’s nuclear deal with the US, already dogged by opposition at home, has provoked alarm in neighbour China, but experts expect Beijing to swallow its complaints rather than risk a face-off with New Delhi.
The pact between New Delhi and Washington would offer India US fuel and reactors, while allowing it to stay out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, keep nuclear arms, and protect its military atomic infrastructure from international inspections.
Even if the agreement survives opposition from the Left parties, China’s veto could kill the pact at the international level. Indian newspapers have cited recent Chinese media comments to suggest that Beijing could scuttle the deal at the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)—a 45-nation club that works by consensus.
Washington will need to go to the NSG, which is supposed to discourage nuclear trade with countries outside the scope of full safeguards, to ask for special leeway for India.
Chinese state media and think tanks have said the nuclear deal will bolster US efforts to “contain” China and undercut international laws to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.
“The nuclear cooperation between the US and India not only seriously damages the integrity and effectiveness of the non-proliferation regime, it exposes the US’ multiple standards in non-proliferation,” People’s Daily, the official voice of the ruling Communist Party, said last month.
US moves to draw India into a loose regional alliance of democratic countries, such as Australia and Japan, which pointedly excludes Beijing, have magnified China’s worries, said Zhang Li, an expert on South Asia at Sichuan University.
“China has been trying to judge the nature of the US-India nuclear agreement and that process hasn’t ended,” said Zhang. “In the past couple of months, the problem has become more prominent because of the spread of this democracy alliance. This will affect China’s judgement.”
Experts disagreed and said China was unlikely to stymie the nuclear deal and risk pushing Delhi closer to Washington—just when Beijing is seeking to avoid a destabilizing confrontation with its rising Asian neighbour and long-time rival.