Emboldened by its entry into three of the four multilateral export control regimes over the last two years, India on Tuesday (Apr 10) 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.
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.
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.