As PM lands in SA, focus back on NSG

Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Pretoria on Thursday evening, on a visit that will see both economic ties and an address to the Indian diaspora as highlights, but officials say it will also be a chance for India to kick-start its next round of talks in its campaign for Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) membership.

South Africa is the first NSG country that Mr. Modi is visiting since India failed to have its membership decided at the plenary session in Seoul. Just prior to that session, Mr. Modi had personally discussed the issue in Switzerland, U.S., and Mexico, winning from each visit an assurance of support.

However in Seoul, many countries, including Switzerland and South Africa are believed to have raised procedural concerns over the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), ambassadors from at least four delegations present in the room had confirmed to The Hindu.

“You must understand the backdrop to South Africa’s hesitation regarding NSG,” said former High Commissioner to Pretoria, Rajiv Bhatia. “When South Africa ended apartheid, it also destroyed its nuclear arsenal which it revealed only later [in 1993]. Therefore it retains a strong interest in non-proliferation.”

India has now pinned its hopes on an informal process initiated by the NSG to evolve a consensus on its membership to a possible NSG session later this year. “We will continue our pursuit of the NSG membership as well as other nuclear regimes this year,” an official well-versed with the effort told The Hindu.

Officials would not speculate whether there would be a clear statement of support from President Jacob Zuma, as had been the case in Switzerland and Mexico last month, but confirmed that the issue would be taken up when Mr. Modi meets the South African President on Friday. In a pre-departure media briefing the MEA also rejected reports that South Africa had opposed India’s membership at any point.

“[South Africa] has been very supportive of India in the last NSG. Of course you may have read some reports to the contrary but let me tell you before you ask me the question, that they have actually been quite supportive,” Secretary, Economic Relations in the MEA, Amar Sinha said.

Earlier this week, South Africa’s International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane also confirmed that talks on the NSG “could come up”. Asked whether South Africa would back India’s membership bid, Ms. Nkoana-Mashabane only noted that “all members of the NSG were also members of the NPT,” the popular online portal IOL reported.

Another unspoken concern is China’s influence over South Africa that has grown considerably in the past few decades and now Beijing stands as South Africa’s biggest trading partner with more than $60 billion in trade as well as a key partner in the One Belt One Road projects that will draw infrastructure investment.

India pulled in at $9.4 billion in trade with South Africa in 2015-16, the lowest in the past 6 years, according to the MEA website, which will be discussed at a major business forum on Friday.

“There is no doubt that Beijing would have used its influence with Pretoria on the NSG issue,” Ambassador Bhatia told The Hindu.

“India must work on its historic warmth and friendship to reach a different understanding with South Africa,” he added.

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2022 8:14:18 AM |

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