Stating that Indian officials were not present inside the Nuclear Suppliers Group meeting in Seoul, Minister of State for External Affairs Gen (Retd) V.K. Singh set off a new controversy over India’s bid that failed to be decided by the NSG in June. “NSG meetings are held in a closed-door discussion. No one knows what is happening inside the room. So everything else is speculation. Who said what to whom…What you are here hearing is without basis. The truth is only known to those who are inside the room. We don’t know,” Mr. Singh told reporters on the sidelines of a function in Ballia, Uttar Pradesh.
The statement was at considerable variance from the Ministry of External Affairs’s statements in the past week, which had detailed the discussions inside the NSG plenary session, and blamed “one country”, indicating China, for “persistently raising” procedural hurdles that derailed India’s hopes for a membership during the session. Speaking to journalists on Friday, MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup had repeated the charge, adding that, on the basis of bilateral conversations with all 48 members of the NSG “I can say with complete certainty that at the end of the day there was only one country which raised procedural hurdles as a result of which the NSG could not arrive at a decision in favor of India.”
However, when asked why China was blocking India’s bid, Gen Singh said, “You are saying this [that China is opposing us]. I don’t know that. That’s why I say, when the media publishes something, or broadcasts something, where does that come from? Did you think that up yourself? Did the MEA tell you this? No, right? Because we are not inside the (NSG) room, we don’t know what was said there. How will people who are outside know what is happening inside the room?” General Singh said in remarks that seemed to counter the MEA’s comments.
At the NSG meeting in Seoul, the Indian delegation including Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar were based in a nearby hotel, but not at the Shilla hotel hosting the conference as India’s application was due to come up for discussion. However, officials remained in touch with delegations of countries supporting India’s bid inside the room during the 2 days of talks. Since the NSG meeting on June 23-24th, officials have made several statements on and off the record indicating that China was the main problem for India as even though other countries raised concerns about the process, only China was opposed to India’s candidature in principle. Chinese lead negotiator Wang Qun told the press that he believed India would have to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in order to be considered.
While out of line with the MEA’s pronouncements, General Singh’s statement may be more in line with a new conciliatory effort to restart negotiations with China on the issue, given that informal consultations headed by outgoing NSG Chairperson Rafael Grossi is expected to yield a special plenary to discuss India’s membership later this year. China’s support will be necessary as the NSG works by consensus.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement to a private channel in an interview last week was less pointed than the MEA’s statements as well. “In foreign policy it's not necessary to have similar views to have a conversation. Even when the views are contradictory, talks are the only way forward and problems should be resolved through dialogue. We don't have one problem with China, we have a whole lot of problems pending with China,” Mr. Modi said.
When asked by reporters about India’s future efforts on Friday, the MEA spokesperson also said, “ It is a matter of continuing discussions with China and as Prime Minister said in his interview, it will remain a matter of continuing discussions with China because we eventually hope to convince China of our credentials and our need for joining the Nuclear Suppliers Group.”