Home / Politics / Policy /  India’s NSG bid: Despite Wang Yi visit, experts sceptical of compromise with China

New Delhi: One of the outcomes of Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi’s three-day visit to India that ended on Sunday was an agreement on talks between the neighbours on India’s candidature for the exclusive Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which Beijing had previously blocked in June.

Analysts, however, seemed unwilling to bet on the results of the dialogue with one dismissing outright China’s apparent move to accommodate India.

“It (the dialogue on NSG) is a positive development because it is only through dialogue that the issue can be resolved. Whether the dialogue will succeed or not is difficult to predict at this stage," said Rakesh Sood, who formerly headed the nuclear and disarmament division in India’s ministry of external affairs.

“The talks are not a bad start but depends on what kind of deals China is looking at," said Rajeshwari Rajagopalan, senior fellow at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation think tank.

“The issue to look at is whether China is willing to back off from the NPT signatory factor which is not mandatory for NSG membership. China is obviously feeling a lot under pressure because of the South China Sea verdict and the kind of stand India took... and so, they might look for some sort of compromise, but (it is) too early to say how this will play out in order to find a favourable solution," she said.

NPT refers to nuclear-non-proliferation treaty, which India has not signed.

Kanwal Sibal, a former foreign secretary, was of the view that the Chinese gesture was aimed at “keeping India guessing" on the possibilities of thrown open by the proposed talks.

Wang Yi, who arrived in India on Friday, separately met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and foreign minister Sushma Swaraj. The agenda for the meeting was to discuss the G-20 meeting hosted by China early next month for which Modi would be travelling to China and the Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa (Brics) summit that India will be hosting in Goa. Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected in India for the latter.

Also coming up is the 11th East Asia Summit in Laos on 6-8 September. Modi is also expected to make a bilateral visit to Vietnam, one of the countries with rival claims to China over the South China Sea. The others with similar claims are Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines.

“They want to pretend that this (India’s NSG application) is open. By signalling that the Chinese could change their position on India’s application at the NSG, they are trying to dissuade India from taking a tough stand on the South China Sea dispute," said Sibal.

The reference was to last month’s verdict given by an international tribunal based in the Hague. On 12 July, the tribunal ruled that China had no “historical claim" on most of the South China Sea—a crucial waterway through which more than 50% of India’s trade with Asia passes.

India on its part supports the freedom of navigation through international waters and in this context, the South China Sea, a position seen to be aligned with that of the US, Japan and other countries in the region. A key line in the “US-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region" issued in January 2015 during the visit of US President Barack Obama says: “We (India and the US) affirm the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea."

But in a joint statement issued by Russia, China and India in April this year, India agreed to a joint statement that said: “All related disputes (i.e. maritime disputes) should be addressed through negotiations and agreements between the parties concerned" -- a position seen supportive of China’s stance on the South China Sea dispute and prompting the Chinese to say that it had India’s backing on the South China Sea dispute.

Beijing claims the entire stretch of water and advocates the principle of “territorial seas" i.e. ships passing through waters a country claims as its territorial seas have to seek the country’s permission. Countries like the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei all have rival claims.

At a meeting of the Association of South East Asian Nations or Asean in Vientiane, Laos, in July, China successfully blocked any mention to the Hague tribunal ruling, using the good offices of Asean member state Cambodia, according to media reports.

With Asean members and the US, Japan and Australia expected to participate in the East Asia Summit in Laos next month, the Chinese game plan seems to ensure India does not take too tough a stand, which is why they have kept the door seemingly open on the NSG issue, said Sibal.

According to a person privy to the discussions on the Indian side, there were no discussions on the South China Sea.

But one of the decisions taken at the Wang-Swaraj meeting was the setting up of a new dialogue at the level of foreign secretaries to smoothen out recent wrinkles in their relationship.

This included China blocking an attempt by India to get Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Maulana Masood Azhar on a list of people to be sanctioned. Beijing has also upset India by going ahead with plans to invest $46 billion in an economic corridor in Pakistan, some of which runs through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

The second key decision was on holding a special round of talks on India’s membership of NSG on the grounds that India has not signed NPT.

That China’s resistance to India’s application came against the backdrop of India’s President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Modi appealing to Chinese President Xi Jinping to support India’s membership was keenly noted in India.

“You can take it from me that the Chinese are not going to budge," said Sibal referring to India’s NSG membership. “This is just a ploy to keep India from taking a position on the South China Sea that will embarrass the Chinese," he said.

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