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New Delhi: China appears isolated in its attempt to keep India out of the elite Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) with a US official over the weekend describing the Asian giant as “one outlier" blocking India’s membership.

In response, Beijing on Monday said admission of countries that are not signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT)—like India—into the NSG cannot be a farewell gift that countries give each other. The comment was seen as reference to US President Barack Obama handing over charge of the US administration to president elect Donald Trump on 20 January.

It also comes as China’s new envoy to India Luo Zhaohui has proposed the signing of a treaty of friendship and cooperation with India along with a free-trade agreement and a speedy conclusion of an agreement on the long-pending border dispute.

Luo also spoke of the need to synergize China’s Belt and Road Initiative infrastructure and connectivity projects with India’s Act East Policy at a speech to the Mumbai University last week.

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Luo’s comments on friendship and cooperation seemed to be in sharp contrast to comments from Beijing on Monday, where Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said: “Regarding India’s application to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), regarding non-NPT countries admission to the NSG, we have made our position clear before so I will not repeat it."

“I just want to point out that NSG membership shall not be some kind of (a) farewell gift for countries to give to each other," Hua said seemingly targeting the outgoing Obama administration.

China has been blocking India’s membership bid for the 48-member grouping despite backing from majority members on the grounds that India is not a signatory to NPT. China has been advocating a two-step approach for admission of countries who have not signed the NPT. As per the new stand announced by Beijing, it first wants to find a solution that is applicable to the admission of all non-NPT countries followed by discussions on admitting specific nations.

Beijing’s remarks on Monday were in response to comments made by outgoing US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, Nisha Desai Biswal.

“Clearly there is one outlier that needs to be addressed and that is China," Biswal had said on India’s NSG membership bid in an interview to PTI.

Chinese opposition was seen as the main reason for New Delhi failing in its bid to secure membership of the NSG at two meetings of the grouping in 2016. China’s stance that India’s application cannot be considered because it has not signed NPT was also backed by some other countries at the NSG. This was despite strong backing for India by the US, the UK, France and a number of others in the 48-member group.

China’s rigid stance came despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Pranab Mukherjee meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing in May and in Tashkent in June pressing India’s case.

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Disagreement over NSG membership is not the only contentious issue between India and China. Another is China’s efforts to block India’s attempts to get Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Maulana Masood Azhar named a terrorist at the UN.

The Chinese “technical hold" on the resolution twice followed by a block in December has put paid to India’s efforts to get Azhar’s name included in a list of terrorists banned by the UN.

On Monday, Hua objected to the use of the word “block."

“As we have explained our position before, on this question, the 1267 Committee needs to base its decision on solid evidence, follow relevant resolutions and rules of procedure and make a decision based on consensus. The technical hold China proposed is to allow more time for consultation and deliberation," she said.

Asked whether China will re-think this issue this year if India files a fresh application as the previous one lapsed due to two technical holds by Beijing, Hua said, “China raised the technical hold to give more space for deliberation and consultation". “It is a regret that no consensus has been reached so far. We need more consensus and more time for deliberation so as to reach a consensus," Hua said.

PTI contributed to this report

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