Why India and China can’t unite over the Nuclear Suppliers Group

As President Pranab Mukherjee visited China last week, India’s entry into the 48-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), whose members can trade in and export nuclear technology, has emerged as the latest battleground in the growing Sino-Indian relations.

With India’s push for admission into the NSG gaining momentum ahead of the group’s annual plenary session next month, Beijing is making it clear that it intends to make life difficult for India.

China has relied on an obstructionist argument and has called for further discussion on whether “India and other countries” which have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty can join the NSG.

Where the US and other supporting members have called for India’s inclusion based on New Delhi’s non-proliferation track record and the US-India civil nuclear accord, China has made the NPT signature its central argument to scuttle India’s entry.

Beijing is claiming that a “compulsory” requirement for NSG membership is that “the NSG members must be signatories to the NPT”.

Apart from the rhetoric about the NPT, China has also encouraged Pakistan to apply for NSG membership so as to link New Delhi’s entry with that of Islamabad, knowing well that there will be few takers for Pakistan’s case.

The US State Department, for its part, promptly came to India’s defence by reaffirming the view that “India meets missile technology control regime requirements and is ready for NSG membership”.

The US has declared its support for India’s full membership since 2010.

The Modi government is investing a lot of diplomatic capital in seeking NSG membership.

It has reached out to the New Agenda Coalition, a group of states in the NSG, including Ireland, the Netherlands and Switzerland, and has been able to secure its support.

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The NSG chairperson too visited India last year to take this process forward.
Membership of the NSG will be the final step in India’s inclusion into the global nuclear order.

No wonder China is taking such a strong stand on this issue, despite the fact that its own non-proliferation track record remains abysmal.

In fact, it was China’s support for Pakistan’s nuclear programme that led the way for India’s overt nuclearisation.

The Pakistani nuclear weapons programme is essentially an extension of the Chinese one.

Despite being a member of the NPT, China has supplied Pakistan with nuclear materials and expertise and has provided critical assistance in the construction of Pakistan’s nuclear facilities.

The Sino-Pak nuclear relationship is perhaps the only case where a nuclear weapon state has actually passed on weapons grade fissile material as well as a bomb design to a non-nuclear weapon state.

After the 2008 US-India civil nuclear pact, China made it a point to further enhance nuclear cooperation with Pakistan, despite criticism from other nuclear powers.

When the NSG was approached for the waiver for the passage of the US-India pact, China was the last state standing in opposing the India-specific waiver.

When it failed to scuttle the deal, China quickly moved to sign an agreement with Pakistan.


This action of China was in clear violation of NSG guidelines that forbid nuclear transfers to countries not signatories to the NPT or adhere to comprehensive international safeguards on their nuclear programme.

China suggested that there were “political reasons concerning the stability of South Asia to justify the exports,” echoing Pakistan’s oft-repeated complaint that the India-US nuclear pact had upset stability in the region by assisting India’s strategic programme.

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And now China and Pakistan are working together to block India’s bid to gain entry into the NSG.

India was able to get a one-time clean waiver from the NSG in 2008 as it was able to convince the group of the effectiveness of its export control regime which was deemed to be in line with global standards.

The Bush administration lobbied for India extensively, with President George W Bush himself talking to his Chinese counterpart after Beijing refused to budge.

Today, India wants to be part of the decision-making at the highest levels of global nuclear architecture.
As a rising and responsible nuclear power, it should be a part of this structure and it will also be good for the NSG if India is part of the decision-making process.

China has taken a hard-line on this issue and it seems unlikely that it will change its opposition to India’s entry.

During Pranab Mukherjee’s visit, China indicated that it might be willing to fine-tune its stance, though there was no commitment.

If China continues to stick to rigid stance, to many in India this will further reinforce the perception that China is willing to sacrifice its long-term strategic partnership with a rising power for the short-term objective of trying to scuttle its rise.

This won’t be helpful for Sino-Indian ties, but Beijing wants to go down fighting. New Delhi should brace itself for a bumpy ride ahead.

The writer is professor of international relations, King’s College London
Source:- Daily mail Uk