China says door open for talks on NSG

NSG_2903517fChina on Tuesday said the “door is always open for discussions” on Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) memberships, subtly shifting from its earlier stand that India’s membership was not on the agenda for the nuclear group’s plenary in Seoul this week.

“The door is open for discussions for the admission of all non-NPT countries” into the NSG, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Hua Chunying said, but did not clarify whether that discussion was being held in bilateral conversations between NSG members or at the NSG meeting in Seoul that got under way on Monday.

In sharp contrast, Ms. Hua had said earlier on Monday: “The upcoming NSG Plenary Meeting in Seoul will not cover this issue (of NSG memberships for non-signatories to the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT)) either. Therefore there is no point talking about supporting or opposing the entry of a particular non-NPT country at this moment.”

New Delhi did not respond to the latest Chinese statement, although officials said they remained “cautiously optimistic but realistic” of India’s chances, given the short timeline to the main plenary session on June 23-24.

Meanwhile, Pakistan Prime Minister’s advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz told Parliament that Islamabad has “successfully” blocked India’s bid to gain membership of the NSG.

Pakistan has a strong case to gain Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) membership on merit and non-discriminatory basis, Mr Aziz said in a statement.

India’s most senior official on disarmament and nuclear issues Amandeep Singh Gill left for Seoul on Tuesday.

He will be assisted by India’s Ambassador to South Korea Vikram Doraiswami in case India is asked for details on its membership application.

Officials would not confirm reports that Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar will travel to Seoul on Friday, directly after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Tashkent at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit. The meeting is being seen as the last chance for India to “convince China” to drop its opposition to membership bid.

More than 300 diplomats from the 48-member countries will attend the NSG plenary on June 23-24. Both South Korea and Argentina, whose ambassador Rafael Grossi chairs the Nuclear Suppliers Group this year, have been supportive of India’s bid for a membership. Even so, a “no-vote” from any country in the NSG could scuttle either a discussion on the admission of non-NPT (non-signatories to the Non Proliferation Treaty) member applicants India and Pakistan, or the actual decision.

India’s hopes did get a boost from Washington, where the U.S. State Department spokesperson John Kirby said, “During PM Modi’s visit, the President reaffirmed that India is ready for membership, and we continue to call upon the participating members of the NSG to support India’s application at the plenary session this week itself.”

When asked about the U.S. stand, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Hua Chunying said, “The United States is also one of those who made the rule that non-NPT countries should not join the NSG and the relevant rule is made on the principle that the NPT be made the cornerstone of the NSG.”

On Tuesday China also hardened its position on making no exceptions for India, claiming other members agreed with its view.

“We are now talking about non-NPT members joining as a whole rather than any other specific non-NPT country’s accession. China’s position in this regard is not directed against any specific country,” Ms. Hua added.

China’s words indicate that it will not give up pushing for India and Pakistan to be treated at par. In an article on Tuesday, China’s state-run tabloid Global Times sought to absolve Islamabad of any role in former Pakistani nuclear chief A.Q. Khan’s illicit nuclear proliferation racket. “Actually, the proliferation was done by Abdul Qadeer Khan, Pakistan’s chief nuclear scientist, and was not an official policy of the Pakistani government,” the daily said. (Courtesy The Hindu)