India senses a chance at NSG after Vienna meet

As the two-day extraordinary session of the Nuclear Suppliers Group discussing India’s membership came to a close, Indian negotiators are sensing a chance at working with China to convince it of India’s qualifications to enter the group. The final decision is expected to at the NSG annual plenary in Seoul, South Korea on June 24-25, when the 48 member countries must decide by consensus on applications by India and Pakistan.

Sources said the two-day session saw several questions raised by various diplomats that indicated which way countries will stand, giving India a sense of whom they should target in the next two weeks. While the NSG meeting was secret and “closed-door”, sources in New Delhi and Vienna confirmed that the number of those countries holding out against India was “in single digits”, and China continues to have reservations on India’s membership application. Among the other countries are Turkey, Kazakhstan and Ireland, while Mexico and Switzerland have switched over to support India after PM Modi’s visits there.

“Most of the countries that were not ready to accept India’s membership spoke of the need for a process rather than an exception for India,” nuclear non-proliferation expert Mark Fitzpatrick told The Hindu over the telephone from Vienna, where he was following events closely, explaining that most members feel India has fulfilled most of the criteria put forth by the NSG since 2008.

To that end sources said Indian negotiators have been working hard to find common ground with their Chinese counterparts, adding that China had not yet directly informed India of the reasons for its opposition. In addition, the government has considerably softened its public criticism of China compared to April this year, when senior officials and ministers had reacted strongly to China’s decision to block the move to ban Masood Azhar. The Ministry of Home Affairs has also moved quickly on liberalising visas and taking Chinese scholars and conference goers off the “prior referral” list, a move seen as another attempt to reach out to Beijing.

In addition the Indo-US joint statement during PM Modi’s visit to Washington this week raised eyebrows as it made no mention of the contentious South China Sea in its wording. Previous statements issued in 2014 and 2015 had contained the phrase “especially in the South China Sea” when referring to Indo-US cooperation on ensuring freedom of navigation, which had raised protest statements from Beijing in the past.

Much will depend on whether Prime Minister Modi travels this month to Tashkent for the SCO summit with Russia, China and other Central Asian countries on June 23-24. Sources said the visit was still a work in progress, as there are procedural details on India’s membership that haven’t been completed. If he does travel, it will be a chance to meet with President Xi Jinping on the eve of the NSG plenary.

Mr. Fitzpatrick said it was “possible but unlikely” that India would be able to win its membership without China coming on board, but accepted that the other countries holding out could be convinced. “I am sure that between now and the plenary, arms will be twisted. Letters have been written, telephone calls will be made, but it comes down to the strong opposition by China, and I don’t think arm twisting will work there without some sort of a process,” he told The Hindu .

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Printable version | Jul 3, 2022 2:36:11 pm |