The Chinese leadership has pulled up its lead negotiator for failing to garner significant global support for China's position in Seoul which blocked India's entry into the NSG—a 48-nation export control regime that frames and implements the rules for exporting nuclear equipment and fissile material with an aim to control the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
The Asian News International reported that Wang Qun, China’s lead negotiator, had told Beijing that at least one-third of the NSG nations would endorse China's position. However, the tables were slightly turned, with more than 40 nations backing India.
The second development refers to a recent veiled remark by a top US diplomat that China is the only obstacle standing between India and membership to the NSG. US Undersecretary for Political Affairs Tom Shannon expressed his “regret” that the US had failed to ensure India’s entry into the export control regime during its plenary meeting in Seoul last week.
There has been a clear iteration from Washington that the US government will continue to push for India’s bid. However, Beijing has maintained that India will not be granted NSG membership because of the international body’s rules. All NSG members have to adhere to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty's provisions.
Although its argument based on procedural reasons is valid, it is no secret that that Beijing’s actions come from its desire to support its ally, Pakistan, which has also applied for membership. The American diplomat further said that the US and India will have to work together to curb the rise of China.
He showered praise on India, calling it an "anchor of stability" in the Asia-Pacific region, and criticised Chinese activity in the South China Sea. Shannon also urged India to have a strong presence in the Indian Ocean. It’s well known that US President Barack Obama wants India to become a major player in its “Pivot to Asia” doctrine, which essentially seeks to contain China's increasingly muscular assertions in the maritime theatres of the South China Sea, Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.
Is NSG membership critical to our nuclear energy programme? Will India’s participation make nuclear commerce more secure? Experts contend that membership will make no real difference. India already has access to key nuclear technology, as a result of the waiver granted for the 2008 US-India Civil Nuclear Agreement.
Under the one-time waiver, India agreed that it would follow any rules that the NSG may make in the future. NSG membership is also unlikely to matter much in terms of uranium supply. India has already finalised agreements with the likes of Canada and Australia, among others, for the supply of uranium. The only possible benefit that India may hope to reap is to participate in the NSG's rule-making process.
Experts contend that membership to the NSG is one of the steps towards the much-desired aim of a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. There is nothing terribly wrong with the idea. The only problem has been the Modi government’s approach to the entire issue. NSG membership did not warrant the kind of political capital expended by the Modi government.
The current waivers give India the requisite space to conduct our nuclear energy programme with minimal hassles. Any future changes to the NSG guidelines that are inimical to India’s interests could have been blocked by securing one ally on the inside.
"If the domestic criticism has been high, it is because the government raised the pitch: It appeared desperate to project a political triumph where a prosaic handling might have served it better,” according to a recent column by noted academic Pratap Bhanu Mehta. However, more that the diplomatic embarrassment served up at the recent Seoul plenary, a lot of questions have been raised against India’s decision to unilaterally align with the US.
In a scathing column, Praveen Swami, a leading Indian analyst on security-related issues, wrote: “Indian ‘greatness’ was premised on a particular, but transient, configuration of global power: A unipolar world that revolved around the United States. From 1999, when it won Washington’s approval by demonstrating restraint during the Kargil war, New Delhi proved deft in leveraging its rapid economic growth to cast itself as a counterweight to a rising China.
The strategy paid off. The US pushed General Pervez Musharraf’s regime to scale back support for the jihad in Kashmir, leading to an unprecedented fall in terrorism from historically high levels in 2001, to near-zero levels by 2006. From 2001 to 2008, India did not witness a single major terrorist attack carried out by a Pakistan-based jihadist group.”
The other strategic gain from the US-centric approach was the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Deal in 2008, which secured India’s access to global nuclear markets. China’s consent for the NSG waiver to India was secured by a mere phone call from then US President George H.W. Bush. However, subsequent domestic and global events have completely turned the power dynamic on its head.
It began with the 2008 financial crash. This was followed by America’s protracted war in Iraq and Afghanistan, which starkly exposed its military failings in the region. China soon began its expansionist ventures into the South China Sea with little regard for America's interests.
For India, however, the 2008 Mumbai attack should have changed its perception of the US.
It demonstrated that India could no longer rely on the Americans to contain the Pakistani military establishment. “New Delhi cannot continue to behave now as it did in the decade from 2004 to 2014, secure in the belief that the US will be able to guide it through the perilous paths that lie ahead,” Swami adds.
“His (Prime Minister Modi) charge to breach the NSG’s ramparts is just one of many signs that India hasn’t quite grasped that reality.” As a fellow expansionist, the Chinese will always want to assert its hegemony in the region, which means backing its ally, Pakistan, in the face of America’s assertions. Instead of laying all its bets on one horse, India must reassess its strategy and consider its own self-interest rather than become a pawn in America’s “Pivot to Asia” doctrine.