India's NSG membership bid calls for in-depth discussion, says Beijing envoy Liu Jinsong

China wants to see more discussions on India’s membership at the NSG, but hasn’t opposed it, as many believe, says Beijing's envoy to India Charge D’Affaires Liu Jinsong. He spoke to Diplomatic Editor Suhasini Haidar about some of the major issues challenging the India-China relationship at present, including the UN ban on Masood Azhar, and their divergence on the South China Sea Verdict.

(Liu Jinsong’s statements were translated by his colleague)

The tribunal ruling on the South China Sea that just came out. China appears to be challenging the International order. There is a sense that China is isolated, and many countries are asking China to adhere by the tribunal despite all the statements we have seen from Beijing.

First of all, we don’t feel isolated. Let me give you some numbers. By now there are about 60 to 70 countries which have explicitly supported China’s position, and there are more than 230 political parties around the world which have announced their support to the Chinese position. In April this year, during the Russia-India-China consultation, the foreign ministers of the 3 countries have jointly released a statement. I have with me this paper here, and there’s a paragraph which stated the common position of the three countries. Actually, it’s also in support of China’s position, and we don’t feel isolated at all, and as for the so called challenging of the International Legal order, we need to clarify who is challenging the order. In China’s view, and many of our friend’s perspective, the constitution of the tribunal is illegal. So, its constitution, the award it passed, and the effect it has is actually challenging the international order and in effect is destabilising the regional peace. Just as a civilian court has no jurisdiction over a criminal case, an Intellectual Property Rights Court cannot judge over a maritime dispute. This tribunal is without jurisdictional basis, so it is illegal and it has no credibility, so why should we accept an award from this kind of tribunal. We need to clarify some facts. The tribunal is different from the court. There is the International Court of Justice, and the International Tribunal on Maritime Issues, neither of these two organisations is the same with this PCA. Actually, the tribunal is only a transient court, registered under the PCA, so it is different from an international court.

The truth is, you consider India as one of the country’s which has backed China’s stand. We have seen the Indian statement as well, which doesn’t seem to differentiate between the Hague, between the UNCLOS as well. Besides this, Indian officials have pointed out, that whether it came to Bangladesh for the maritime dispute, or whether it is the case of the Italian marines, India didn’t want to but it did submit itself to International Arbitration. Why is China insisting that India’s statement released two days ago, is actually supportive of China’s stand?

I don’t think there’s a major difference between your position and our position. Right now, if you watch the statement two days ago and the statement in April, I think you need to combine them and look at it. What I want to say is that from the two statements, one raised two days ago, and the other one, I don’t see any proof that the Indian government is supporting the position of this award as quoted by some journalists. And now there are only three to four countries in the world which believes the award is legally binding and which have asked China to accept it. So, we feel that we have a lot in common with our Indian friends and we believe that we need to understand and abide by the UNCLOS in a comprehensive way. However, some countries do not respect the rights of our two countries as coastal states. For example, in India, there is an Indian law requiring foreign warships to notify the Indian government when they pass through the territorial waters and in China, we have a law which demands approval, but this certain country turned a blind eye to our domestic law.

Okay, since you referred to a certain country, a senior US official came to Delhi a few weeks ago, who said China’s policy in the South China Sea was aimed at the Indian Ocean and that India should realise that. How do you respond to that?

As I see it as a very unprofessional way trying to sow discord between other countries. I have heard many times from Indian friends that the Indian government follows an independent foreign policy strategy and it will pursue its relations with other countries in an independent way, it will not be pressured and lured by other countries to do otherwise. Secondly, South China Sea is part of the Pacific Ocean, so I don’t see how it is linked to the Indian Ocean and I believe our two countries will not be moved by the discord sown by other countries and we will be committed to conducting cooperation in this area.

Let’s talk then of an issue where there has been open discord between India and China, that is the Nuclear Suppliers Group. India has long maintained that only one country has opposed their entry into the group. There is no doubt that the country being talked about was China. Why is China opposed to India’s membership? India does make the case that many countries have opposed the procedure, and that many countries have problems with the sequencing, but it was China and China alone that opposed India this membership.

I have noted the statement of the foreign ministry which said that there is one country which is opposing India’s entry into the NSG but the fact is, at the Seoul conference, at least 8 or 9 countries which have concern over the procedure or criteria and credential of India’s membership. But as you know, in that statement, the MEA only mentioned one country but it didn’t explicitly say which country. So China will not rush up to take up this hat.

Does that mean that China doesn’t oppose India’s membership?

China has never stated that it opposes the membership of any country to the NSG. Of course, we have never stated our support to any country, ever. The issue is about the way of the entry of new members, the procedure that they will follow. The entry, in NSG, by non-NPT signatories. You know, China is one of the P-5 of the UN Security Council, and the security environment surrounding China is very complex. And we attach great importance to the NPT as the cornerstone of the non-proliferation regime. I believe our Indian friends can understand China’s position on this point. India’s membership in the NSG is not a low-hanging fruit. So, we need further discussion by parties concerned. China stands with India’s wish to develop nuclear energy to put a cap on carbon emissions and to seek development. However, we believe that this issue calls for in-depth discussion by all parties. So, on this issue, our principle is abiding by the rules and finally finding a way out.

Okay, if I understand correctly, what you’re saying is that, without signing the NPT, India cannot be accepted as a member of the NSG….

This is your understanding but I did not say that. What I said is that the NPT is very important, and the current criteria for membership into the NSG has it that a new member must be a signatory state to the NPT. So how can we handle the situation of India… India’s entry into the NSG is an issue that needs to be discussed by all countries.

India has consistently said it abides by the NPT without signing the NPT. China may say has it has principles about the NPT, India has its own principles. It believes the NPT is unfair towards developing countries and India in particular, which had tested nuclear weapons before the NSG was formed but after the NPT was formed. China has accepted that India can be made an exception, in 2008. Is that still possible, do you believe it is possible to make an exception for India, or at least to discuss that now?

If you believe that the NPT is unfair, then we are all very clear about the context in which the NSG was founded. It was founded in 1974 (after India tested). You mentioned the waiver in 2008, but actually that exception was in relation to India’s access to civil nuclear development. It’s different from entry into the NSG. I do not want to delve too deeply into this issue, because I believe that it has been heated up by the media for too long. We need to give it time to cool down. As the Indian Prime Minister said, NSG is only one of the questions between China and India. Our two countries have a long list of questions to talk about.

The media deals with public sentiment. So when you hear the U.S. say, they will support India and it is possible for India to become a member of the NSG, several other countries have told us that regardless of what the Chinese Foreign Ministry failed to announce, India was the only country whose membership was discussed and then we hear China negating all of that. It isn’t in keeping with what you’ve said about the bilateral relationship….

Let me clarify first. At the Seoul conference, delegates did not discuss the issue of any country’s entry into the NSG.

There may have been no formal discussion, but the fact is India was mentioned by a number of countries, and India was the only country mentioned….

What they discussed was the political, legal and technical issues concerning the entry of non-NPT signatories in the NSG. I’m aware of the fact that the US and some other countries have voiced their support to India’s membership but I believe that our Indian friends have a sober understanding of the nature of this support. While paying lip-service to India, the United States is very clear about the complexity of this issue. Actually, they know it is not easily workable. But they just gave this lip-service. While, on China’s part, we understand India’s need to develop civil nuclear energy, and we have stated that we support India in developing civil nuclear energy and we are happy to do so without attaching any conditions. This is a gesture of goodwill.

In September this year, I’m sure you are aware of the caseIndia had asked the 1267 committee to consider the banning of Masood Azhar, the head of the Jaish e Mohammed, which is already a banned entity. But China put a hold on that particular vote- That hold does lapse in September. My question is, will China agree to let that hold just lapse, rather than block India’s demand that Masood Azhar should be banned?

The 1267 committee issue is one of the many questions under discussion between our two governments and indeed, it has caused some difficulty, because it is not a bilateral issue. The nature of this issue is that the charter and the criteria of some inter-governmental organisations concerns citizens of a third country. We all know that Masood is of Pakistani origin. The rules of the 1267 committee encourage the countries concerned to hold bilateral discussions on this issue. It is also China’s consistent position to encourage you to do so and we are very glad to see that India and Pakistan have recently had some talks on this issue. So, if you can sit down and smoothen out this question, then China will have no problem. So that’s why we just put a technical hold, it’s not a political hold. Technical means not political, and hold doesn’t mean block.

The reason I asked is, this 1267 committee, has in the past banned Zakiur Rahman Lakhvi and Hafiz Saeed. Also, as far as Masood Azhar is concerned, he is not only a Pakistan national, he is a man who was released by India under in return for hostages who had been hijacked. The second part is that his group is already banned, and the third is that India believes he is responsible for the most recent terror attack, in Pathankot, which China had also condemned. My question is that if the wording in the quest to ban Masood Azhar is amended, would China consider removing that obstacle?

I do understand how our Indian friends feel about terrorism and your desire for international support to your counter-terrorism cause. China has also been a victim of terrorism and it is our principled position to oppose all forms of terrorism and terrorists, no matter what their nationality is. You know between China and India, there are many mechanisms of counterterrorism, such as the China-India Counterterrorism Dialogue. We are going to put in place, a high level dialogue on counterterrorism later this year. We are also planning to invite a high-ranking official in charge of Public Security Affairs from China to visit India. We can discuss all counterterrorism issues through these channels. We also have maintained very good exchanges on this issue at the UN but as you know, the 1267 committee issue is very complex and there are a lot of complex factors concerning the nationality, identity and the nature of the specific person’s activities. So, all these need to be discussed directly, between India and Pakistan. If you can reach a mutually acceptable conclusion, then China won’t have any problem.

You mentioned the RIC communique, there was also an RIC communique on the India-initiated CCIT (Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism), which India hopes to bring to the legal committee at the United Nations later this year. Would China continue to support India on the CCIT?

I can’t comment on this question, because I haven’t seen the draft of this document. As far as I know, and I’m working in New Delhi, the embassy and the Indian government has no discussion on this question.

It was discussed in Beijing at the RIC…Finally, the two leaders are going to meet twice in the next few months, first in Guangzhou and then in Goa, do you feel that eventually once they come together, you can restart talks on all these ‘questions’ as you pointed out. There seems to have been not much progress on many of the issues that India and China have been discussing, the border issue for example, what is it that you hope from these meetings?

The leaders of our two countries, are leaders of great strategic vision. So, I don’t think they will focus on specific issues, rather, they will work to chart the future course of our bilateral relations. Of course, there are issues between our two countries, but I believe it is more pressing and more important to manage and control them, than to try and solve them.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2022 12:58:35 PM |

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