Emboldened by its entry into three of the four multilateral export control regimes over the last two years, India on Tuesday once again reached out to China and tried to convince the interlocutors in Beijing to lift their objections at the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
Joint Secretary (Disarmament and International Security) Pankaj Sharma met Beijing’s top interlocutor Wang Xun, who heads the disarmament division in the Chinese government. Almost two years ago, in June 2016, Wang had blocked the proposal to include India as a member of the elite export control group at a plenary meeting in Seoul.
The Indian Express has learnt that the talks were “constructive” and “forward-looking”. “There was a lot of candour in the conversation, and it was in the right direction,” said a source, but did not disclose whether there was a breakthrough.
In a step forward, the Indian side indicated that both sides emphasised the importance of “bilateral dialogue”. In an official statement issued on Tuesday night, the Indian embassy in Beijing said, “Both sides underlined the importance of the bilateral dialogue as an important mechanism between the two countries for consultations on important issues… The delegations exchanged views on various topics of mutual interest, including, developments related to disarmament and non-proliferation at multilateral forums, nuclear issues, role of science and technology in the context of international security and disarmament as well as outer space.”
Pointing to the talks between then Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar and Chinese officials in Seoul and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Tashkent, both in June 2016, a South Block source said, “Those were very difficult and tough conversations, when the Chinese leadership and officials did not yield an inch. It is different this time around.”
The NSG is the top club of countries which controls access to technology and guards against proliferation. Its membership is important for India to access cutting-edge high technology.
Tuesday’s meeting in Beijing was the first between Indian and Chinese interlocutors after New Delhi secured membership of the three export control regimes. India became a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime in June 2016. This was followed by its entry into the Wassenaar arrangement in December 2017 and the Australia Group in January 2018.
Earlier, the strategy was to approach the entry into the four export control regimes as a “package”. But as India faced China’s objections at the NSG, it decided to approach the four regimes separately. “This strategy of approaching all the export control regimes in an individual and case-to-case basis has made India’s claim much stronger and more credible,” said a source privy to India’s strategy.
China has sought to club India and Pakistan together, on the basis of both being non-signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and has asked the NSG countries to adopt a “criteria-based approach” — which essentially means that either both can get into the group or none. But most of the NSG countries, including the US, France and UK, make a clear distinction between India and Pakistan’s nuclear non-proliferation track record.
While New Delhi points to its clean track record on non-proliferation, many — including the American and French interlocutors — have pointed out how Pakistan’s nuclear programme, led by A Q Khan, violated all norms of nuclear non-proliferation and had links with the North Korean nuclear programme.
With the current US administration making North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic programme “top priority”, India is confident that Pakistan’s claim to membership of the NSG is not going to hold any credibility.
Sources told The Indian Express that Indian officials went to Beijing with the hope that, at a time when both sides are working on a “reset”, the Chinese would be “conciliatory” in their approach. Also, with India now being a member of the MTCR, it can choose not to block China’s bid to become a member of the export control regime.
Sources said the fresh round of meeting took place days after Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale met his counterpart, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou, in New Delhi on April 6. The two officials last met on February 23, a day after Gokhale sent a note to the cabinet secretary, urging all government functionaries and senior leaders to skip “Thank You India events” organised by the Tibetan government-in-exile to mark 60 years in exile of the Dalai Lama.
Kong “reviewed recent developments in bilateral relations” and discussed the agenda for bilateral engagement, including high-level exchanges, in the coming months. He also met NSA Ajit Doval on April 6.