Will US pull it off for India at NSG meet in Seoul?

modi and obama2NEW DELHI: China’s unrelenting insistence on non-proliferation treaty as the benchmark for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group has thrown the gauntlet before the US over non-proliferation norms, offering hope that the tussle for global leadership will ensure US does not let India’s case fall to the wayside at the Seoul meeting of the nuclear trading bloc.

China’s implacable opposition to India’s NSG application is also driving many countries to look for compromise solutions, some of which India fears could delay its accession by years. But this has prompted India to look for a clean accession agreement keeping its legal commitments, non-proliferation record and energy demand in mind.

“Within the group of the NSG, members have different opinions regarding whether or not non-NPT countries can join,” the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said. “Therefore we are now talking about non-NPT members joining NSG as a whole instead of specific non-NPT nations’ accession.”

China’s deliberate clubbing of non-NPT nations like Pakistan with India heightens the challenge for the US as Beijing signals its determination to determine strategic equations in its neighbourhood, the Asia-Pacific and even beyond. The US leadership on non-proliferation ensured India got a waiver from NSG in 2008 to engage in nuclear commerce, but China challenged that openly in 2016.

By pushing Pakistan’s case upfront, China is preventing a consensus in India’s favour and US might consider where

Islamabad’s interests -in confluence with China- be allowed to prevail.
China’s position is similar to Turkey’s, which now says it is leaning in favour of giving India access to NSG but along with Pakistan .

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Turkey’s ambassador to India Burak Akcapar said: “We have no concerns with regard to India’s proliferation record. We are a strong advocate of non-proliferation. All countries should be able to join NSG based on same principles. Admission procedures must be determined expeditiously.”

This sounds simpler than it is. If nations like Austria and New Zealand, which have no political issues with India, still find it very difficult to jettison their non-proliferation beliefs, that can hardly consider Pakistan with any favour. India is trying hard to avoid going into compromise options, as this could mean China or its nominees in the group could string India out for years. In many ways, it would be better for India to come back with a clear “no” rather than being subjected to a committee.

All eyes are therefore on whether the US can swing this membership for India and if the meeting between PM Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Tashkent on Thursday yields an outcome. While China is unlikely to change its position so late in the day, Modi could touch on implications for India-China relations in case India’s application is blocked. Whether India accepts a possible compromise will also depend on whether the Indian government is willing to return from Seoul empty-handed, or wants a face-saving result, if it can’t get in.