NEW DELHI: A rushed dash by Foreign Secretary S.Jaishankar to China, a positive hope expressed by Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj that China would be persuaded, have all been dashed to the ground with Beijing making it clear that India’s admission to the elite Nuclear Suppliers Group is not on the agenda of the meet in Seoul this week.

It is not clear what Swaraj’s optimism at her annual press conference was based on, as within hours China has, in what now amounts to a snub, said, “the inclusion of non-NPT members has never been a topic on the agenda of NSG meetings. In Seoul this year, there is no such topic.”

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying admitted that there was a division amongst the member nations about including not just India, but all countries that had not signed the Non Proliferation Treaty, in the group. She confirmed that the issue had been discussed during the foreign secretary’s recent visit, and ideas exchanged on it.

Interestingly, a small carrot that India had sought to dangle before China during Jaishankar’s visit was to withdraw objections to Pakistan being included in the elite nuclear club. Swaraj said as much at her press conference when, in response to a question, she said that New Delhi had no objection to Pakistan or any other country seeking the same membership. And that it was for the NSG to decide. China had earlier stated that it expected the ground rules about membership to be the same for India, Pakistan and other non-NPT countries that was widely and erroneously interpreted here as Beijing’s insistence that Pakistan also be brought into the nuclear club.

That this was not so was re-stated in an article carried recently in the Chinese official media. However, the Indian media as briefed by officials continues to insist that China is “batting” for Pakistan on this front, when actually it has made clear the fact that it does not feel that either country is qualified until the criteria is fully met. Interestingly Russia too has not directly committed to support for India on this, maintaining instead that it is work in progress, and that the NSG should not rush into taking a decision on this all important issue.

NSG membership seems to have become a focal foreign policy issue for the government now, given the effort being made to get into the group. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had also been very keen on this, working hard to ensure that the United States withdrew its initial objections and agreed to waive conditions in favour of India. For Prime Minister Narendra Modi it has become a prestige point with the sudden dash by the foreign secretary, who was earlier Ambassador to China, to ‘persuade’ China being seen as an indication of this. It is not clear who read whom wrong, as it was after this visit, that Swaraj said that she was confident that China would support India at the NSG meeting this week. Now China’s foreign ministry has said, that the issue is not even on the agenda and hence India’s membership cannot be taken up for discussion.

Swaraj said that she has personally spoken to 23 member nations that have agreed to support India. Till date there is no clarity as to which countries are actively supporting India, apart from the US and UK, to the point of countering China on this front.

Asked about why India was so keen to become a member of the NSG immediately Swaraj said that there was a difference between sitting outside a room, and inside. And that membership would establish India as a responsible and stable nuclear country, thereby opening the doors for investors looking for the same.

The tensions generated between New Delhi and Beijing hit a peak with PM Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington. China, not happy at being seen as a threat and being ‘encircled’ as it were is clearly not in a mood to cooperate. However, just as New Delhi recently said that it had close relations with Beijing, the latter seems to have assured the government here that its ‘no’ to NSG is based on ‘criteria’ and not any opposition to India per se. Swaraj was emphatic that China is not opposed to India.The NSG, incidentally, operates on the basis of consensus.