The annual plenary session of the Nuclear Suppliers Group ended on Friday without taking any decision on India’s application for membership. While the 48-member grouping held two lengthy closed-door sessions on the subject of new memberships, several countries expressed concerns over the entry of members who aren’t signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), that India has refused to sign. Through the session, a team led by Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar monitored developments in Seoul, meeting with various countries to try and effect a favourable outcome.
Eventually, though, say diplomats, between China’s attempts to block any discussion, countries like Brazil and Turkey calling for a “criteria-based” process to be put in place first, and others like Austria, Ireland, New Zealand and Switzerland raising the NPT question, India’s chances were scuttled. Government officials held that atleast 32 countries had made positive interventions on India’s behalf, but the NSG’s actions are governed by consensus and not by majority.
In a reference to the discussions, the NSG joint statement said they spoke of “Technical, Legal and Political Aspects of the Participation of non-NPT States in the NSG” and decided to continue its discussion”. India and Pakistan were the only non-NPT applicants, and according to several diplomats privy to the consultation, Pakistan’s case, “was not even discussed,” indicating India’s case was the only one under consideration during the special sessions.
Clearly disappointed by the outcome, the government lashed out at China in a veiled reference to “one country”, that had “persistently raised” “procedural hurdles”, and said that an “early decision on [India’s] application remains in larger global interest.” Significantly, the sharp statement pointing towards China came just twelve hours after the meeting of PM Modi and Chinese President Xi, and at the same time as the two leaders were attending the SCO summit in Tashkent on Friday.
Acknowledging the divisions within the NSG, the government also sought to differentiate between those opposing India’s entry for not signing the NPT, and those calling for a process.
“A few countries raised issues regarding the process for India’s participation in the NSG. It is self-evident that process issues would not arise if these countries were actually opposed to our participation,” MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup said in a statement issued in Tashkent.
However China claimed that it had not opposed India’s membership, and that NSG sessions had only spoken broadly of non-NPT states. In an interaction with international media gathered to cover the NSG session in Seoul, Chinese lead negotiator and Director-General of the Arms Control division Wang Qun said that signing the NPT was “really an issue” for members. “Because for admission the NSG has 5 criteria for members, most noticeably the NPT, it is a must. This is not a rule set by China, this is the rule set by the NSG and reaffirmed by the international community,” Mr. Qun said.
Mr. Qun also denied reports that China had been isolated during the session and claimed that “not only China but dozens of countries share China’s view that we need to discuss how we can go forward, how can we deal with non-NPT states as a whole, before taking up India’s case”.
In its joint statement, the NSG members recorded “firm support for the full, complete and effective implementation of the NPT as the cornerstone of the international non-proliferation regime,” indicating India may come under pressure over the next year to sign the Non-proliferation treaty, that India calls discriminatory, if it wishes to pursue its application, or drop its hopes to join the nuclear regime.
One of India’s strongest backers during the session, Japan, however, said that while no agreement had been made during the current session, their efforts will continue.
“Japan will continue to work together for India to become a full member in the NSG with the aim of strengthening the international non-proliferation efforts,” Yasuhisa Kawamura, Director-General of Press and Public Diplomacy in the Japanese Foreign Ministry in Tokyo replied to a query from The Hindu.
In practical terms, the outcome of the Seoul NSG session is a setback to India’s declared efforts for “immediate membership” at the NSG, and the government warned that it could impact India’s quest for clean energy in the near future.
“An early positive decision would have allowed us to move forward on the Paris Agreement,” the MEA spokesperson said, indicating India’s climate change commitments at the Paris, that the US President Obama has been keen to see adopted, also hang in the balance now.
A day earlier, diplomatic twists and turns were in constant play over India’s hopes for a membership of NSG, and finally it ended stuck over the question of the nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty (NPT), even as the much-anticipated bilateral meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping in Tashkent ended without a statement of support from China.
A source privy to the closed door consultations of Thursday told The Hindu that although the membership application from India was now specifically on the agenda of the meeting, “deliberations have not moved beyond the NPT question, and we are yet to discuss India's case specifically.”
Modi, Xi Jinping meeting
The NSG members broke at about 6 p.m. on Thursday, agreeing to reconvene post-dinner at 9 p.m. The development raised hopes for Indian diplomats and the team in Seoul led by Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar, even as they waited for a positive message from the meeting between Mr. Modi and Mr. Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the SCO summit in Tashkent. However, while India stated its case to China, there was no return statement from the Chinese government on its stand.
“Prime Minister Modi urged China to make a fair and objective assessment of India’s application and judge it on its own merits. He said that China should contribute to the emerging consensus in Seoul,” MEA spokesperson said, describing the meeting that went on for about 45 minutes and dwelt largely on the NSG question.
Shortly after, the Special session began in Seoul, and even though India had received vocal support in intervention from at least 32 countries during the day, including US, Japan, France, Australia, Germany, Canada, Hungary, and host South Korea, it became equally clear that several countries were holding out on the question of how to proceed forward for all Non-NPT countries, without making a special exception for India.