NEW DELHI: India’s efforts to get on to the nuclear high table by becoming a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group seem to have again hit a roadblock, this time in the form of China. An ANI report from Washington quotes sources to point out that both China and Pakistan are closely coordinating moves to block India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). And that “Beijing is using Pakistan’s Non Starter position with the NSG to block India’s application in the name of parity, stating that it would either support NSG entry for both India and Pakistan, or none of them.”

New Delhi has been clearly unable to mend fences with China with its diplomatic efforts to ensure a smooth entry into the NSG at the scheduled meeting next month in June likely to come a cropper. China has been speaking out against India’s membership since late last year with its Foreign Office maintaining that India could not be considered as the sole case for the membership, but only as part of a ‘consensus’ reached by the 48 member group after considering the other applications as well

NSG membership was one of the carrots dangled before former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for compliance with the Hyde Act and the civilian nuclear energy agreement with the United States, that his government had fought strong Left led opposition at home for. In fact in a statement on what was described as the “final outcome of the meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group” on September 6, 2008 Singh had said, “We welcome the decision earlier today of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to adjust its guidelines to enable full civil nuclear cooperation with India. This is a forward-looking and momentous decision. It marks the end of India’s decades long isolation from the nuclear mainstream and of the technology denial regime. It is a recognition of India’s impeccable non-proliferation credentials and its status as a state with advanced nuclear technology. It will give an impetus to India’s pursuit of environmentally sustainable economic growth.

I thank the United States and other member countries of the Nuclear Suppliers Group for the role they have played in ensuring this outcome. The opening of full civil nuclear cooperation between India and the international community will be good for India and for the world. We look forward to establishing a mutually beneficial partnership with friendly countries in an area which is important for both global energy security as well as to meet the challenge of climate change.”

However, there was clearly a big gap betwixt the cup and this lip, as the NSG has not brought India into its fold as yet. And this time around China has emerged as a major obstacle, using Pakistan’s application for the same to deny both. ANI reports, “Sources pointed to the fact that when India sought an information session with the NSG Participating Governments (PGs) at the recent NSG Consultative Group meeting on April 25 and 26, where it would have made a formal presentation to the NSG Group in support of its membership, Pakistan requested for a similar discussion slot with the NSG PGs. Sources said that even though Pakistan was fully aware that its request would be rejected, it made its application at the cue of China, in order for Beijing to look even-handed when it sought the rejection of both requests on grounds of parity. Providing an insight into the China-Pakistan plan to stall India, sources say that Pakistan is now going to write to all the NSG PGs about its wish to join the NSG. The Pakistani application, added sources, is “just a decoy” for China to reject both applications on grounds of parity. China knows that Pakistan does not stand a chance at the NSG, and most of the NSG states will reject Islamabad’s application.

By taking the lead in rejecting the Pakistani application along with that of India, China would like to project its position as “neutral” when in reality it is “working in tandem with Pakistan to stall India’s application”.

The Modi government had started pushing for the NSG membership late last year, building on a visit by the NSG chairperson Rafael Grossi to India where he met Minister Sushma Swaraj. Beijing at about the same time indicated that it was not supporting India any longer maintaining through its Foreign Office that there were other states wanting to join the club, and that India’s entry would be based on “consensus.” Now that the deal is being given a push China has come out openly to oppose India by equating it with Pakistan on this issue.

The ANI report quotes US sources as being disappointed with, “the Chinese tactics of “using Pakistan’s non credentials with the NSG to settle scores with India”. Sources say that this strategy is not a secret and during Pakistan President Mamnoon Hussain’s visit to China in November 2015, China revealed its hand when it told President Husain that if India is allowed to get NSG membership, China would ensure that Pakistan also joins the group. The Chinese government told President Husain that “if India is allowed to join the NSG and Pakistan is deprived of NSG membership, Beijing will veto the move and block the Indian entry”.

This comes in the wake of a diplomatic face off between the two big neighbours over China’s decision to block an Indian move in the UN to sanction Jaish e Mohammed chief Masood Azhar as a terrorist, followed by New Delhi’s decision to clear the visas of several Chinese dissidents for a controversial meeting at the Dharamshala. India backed off from this conference under pressure, but clearly this has not removed the many hiccups in bilateral relations with China.

Beijing has also moved fast to open a trade route to Nepal, and assure it of all strategic support following new tensions between the Oli government and New Delhi with the former recalling its envoy to India and cancelling a scheduled presidential visit.

Pakistan, it may be recalled, has been lobbying hard against India’s inclusion in the NSG. In 2008 it seemed to have lost the plot, but has returned with full support from China. This, along with the Modi government’s inability to move the Nuclear Liability Bill through Parliament, and the still unclear position on the Logistics Support Agreement that has not been signed, places a definitive question mark over India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

The United States is also unlikely to push for India’s membership as there has been little to no progress towards finalising and signing the Logistics Support Agreement. Reports now suggest that this is not likely, as was being speculated, during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US. It might be recalled that the US interest in bringing India onto the NSG table was largely to do with its willingness to sign the civilian nuclear energy deal, and with it the accompanying agreements as well. This did not happen because of stiff Left opposition during the Manmohan Singh government, with Prime Minister Modi unable to take the issue further despite diplomatic effort.