It is to be hoped that our ministry of external affairs, even in its current supine state, would acknowledge that India’s high-profile international push to gain entry to the Nuclear Suppliers Group was unbecoming and counter-productive. The massive effort was unnecessary — and therefore unwarranted. In 2008, India had already gained a waiver from the NSG and was permitted to make purchases of nuclear wares — on the international market in bilateral deals with countries willing to export to us. Nevertheless, NSG membership would have conferred advantages — in the first place in letting Indian industry sell nuclear materials internationally.
But this was just not enough reason to go hell for leather when it was abundantly clear that China — on its own behalf and on behalf of its client Pakistan — would not budge from its opposition to India being in the NSG, which frames the rules of international commerce in nuclear materials. Beijing cited rules — that a country needed to be a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), which India rightly deems to be discriminatory and has not signed, to be in the NSG. Its fundamental objection was that India would be seen to have become practically a de jure nuclear weapons power if it entered NSG without first signing the NPT.
To block India, China indicated that Pakistan’s membership would also have to be considered. The mere suggestion was intended to kill the Indian application as no NSG member would allow Pakistan in with its terrible record of nuclear proliferation. All of this was plain to anyone who has followed India-China and India-Pakistan relations and appreciates that Islamabad works as Beijing’s proxy against India. Yet our government did not heed advice to not raise the stakes and ask for the Indian application to be considered in the Seoul plenary of the NSG on June 24. What was the hurry?
As it turns out, India did not just draw a blank in Seoul; it made itself an international laughing stock. Our top foreign ministry bureaucrat made an unpublicised trip to China to convince Beijing to support the Indian case at the NSG, which works by consensus. Our PM met the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, to plead with him to back us. He flew around the world, stopping by at Switzerland and Mexico, to request endorsement of India. In the end, it was not just China but many others, including Switzerland, which did not back India. But the official spokesman of the government has singled out China. This could mean the souring of bilateral relations. India’s prestige too has taken a hit, especially in the neighbourhood, after being humbled by China.