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NSG standoff: Clouds of mistrust hovering over India-China relations

What has changed since 2008 that has forced China to take an unambiguous anti-India stand on international forums like NSG and UNSC?

Raj Singh [ Published on: June 25, 2016 18:08 IST ]
PM Modi with Xi Jinping
PM Modi with Xi Jinping

New Delhi: So, India has been denied entry into the 48-member cartel that is called Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), at least for the time being.

If reports emanating from Seoul, where NSG plenary session was held on June23-24, are to be believed, India’s request for membership was turned down despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of 38 out of 48 member countries favoured India’s inclusion into the group. Nine other members were not against India’s inclusion but they wanted clear-cut criteria to be put in place simultaneously for inclusion of non-NPT signatories like New Delhi.  
However, there was one country which was dead against India’s inclusion and it was none other than  China, India’s arch-rival in Asia as well as one of the two neighbours with whom India had fought an overt and full-fledged war in the past.  

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Despite the strenuous efforts of Ministry of External Affairs and its diplomats, China refused to budge an inch from its stand. In fact, it was not even ready to discuss India’s case in Seoul. Facing tremendous pressure from other member states, it agreed for a discussion reportedly on the condition that India will not be granted membership, at least in this session.
Even the much-touted ‘personal touch’ diplomacy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi , who met Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) on June 23 and pleaded for Chinese support, failed to work or break the ice.
Not only that, Chinese even refused to pay any heed to the sane advices that came from common friends like Russia and France. The US also tried its best to persuade China, although not at the same level they had worked phones in 2008 to ensure one time waiver for US-India civil nuclear deal, but to no avail.  
Since NSG as a group takes all decisions through consensus, China’s strident anti-India posture ensured that New Delhi was denied entry into NSG, at least for the time being. China, obviously, played the spoilsport for India.
In international diplomacy, these things are neither unusual nor unheard of. It is only natural that  a big group rather a cartel like 48-member NSG will take its own time before it arrives at a consensus on an issue which generates diverse viewpoints and opinions.  
However, what has baffled observers is the obduracy with which China publicly took an anti-India stand this time. It’s a fact that even in 2008, China was not in favour of the India-specific favour but it had preferred not to go public with its opposition. At that time, Chinese relented after the then US President George Bush personally called up the then Chinese President Hu Jintao.
In fact, NSG is not the first instance in the recent times when China has taken an anti-India position.
On April 1, 2016, it had blocked an UN Security Council move to blacklist Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar who India has accused of masterminding the Pathankot airbase attack.
What has changed since 2008 that has forced China to take an unambiguous anti-India stand on international forums like NSG and UNSC?
In fact, there are a host of issues and developments that has made China wary of India’s rising international profile.
In Seoul, China objected to India’s NSG entry  on the ground that New Delhi is yet to sign the NPT but in reality, the NPT was just a fig leaf that Beijing used to thwart India’s candidature.  
Despite being a NPT signatory, China’s own record on proliferation - from Pakistan, North Korea and Iran – is pathetic.
The actual reasons behind China’s anti-India hostilities go beyond NPT. In fact, they have nothing to do with NPT.
Let’s have a look at some of these factors:
1. China’s growing unease over deepening Indo-US military ties
It’s an open secret that China has always been suspicious of deepening military ties between India and the United States.
China believes that through these military tie-ups, United States is trying to prop up India as Beijing’s  counterweight in Asia-pacific reason.
China did not hide its concern over the recent Indo-US logistics exchange agreement under which militaries of India and the US can use each other's assets and bases.
US willingness to sell India cutting-edge military hardware including local manufacturing of F-16 fighter jets has further added to the Chinese fears.
The recent statement of an US official that Washington will do everything to boost India’s naval power has been seen by China as yet another American attempt to undermine and challenge its strategic interests in Indian ocean region.
China knows that it can’t stop two sovereign nations from engaging into military cooperation but its frustration over its helplessness is now getting manifested in its increasingly anti-India posturing on international platforms.
2. Beijing’s fears on Indo-US interference in South China sea dispute
China’s construction of artificial islands in the Spratly Islands have been objected to  by many countries. In fact, China has faced resistance on this issue from time to time by many countries including Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia.
The dispute also involves clash of interest between different nations on issues like acquiring fishing areas, the potential exploitation of crude oil and natural gas under the waters of various parts of the South China Sea, and the strategic control of important shipping lanes.
The United States has openly opposed the Chinese move and India has also started calling for restraint and peaceful resolution of the dispute.
The two countries have started mentioning South China Sea in joint statements recently although during last  US visit of Modi, the two sides deliberately omitted the topic given the fact that India was hopeful of Chinese support on NSG issue.
China sees a design in India and US taking a similar line on South China Sea dispute  and considers it a ploy to curtail its influence in the region
3. China alarmed over India’s military ties with its adversaries like Japan and Vietnam  
The recent reports of India trying to sell supersonic BrahMos missile to Vietnam has also alarmed China. Some media reports have also pointed out that Vietnam has expressed keen interest in Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas as well.
The growing military ties between India and Japan have further annoyed china. Much to China’s discomfort, India, Japan and US are regularly holding naval exercise, Malabar 2016 being the latest one.
Obviously, China is not taking these military moves kindly.
4. Not ready to welcome New Delhi on big table and de-hyphenate India and Pakistan
China does not want India to emerge as a rival power in Asia and as part of the strategy, it wants India to remain bogged down with Pakistan.
That’s one reason why China encouraged Pakistan to apply for NSG membership just after a week India moved its application.
China knows that as long as India is forced to compete with Pakistan on international platforms, it can’t acquire the respect to claim a seat on the table meant for big powers.
5. Chinese concern over aggressive diplomacy of PM Modi in neighbourhood
China is also looking with suspicion at the aggressive diplomatic posturing of PM Modi.
The recent Chabahar port agreement between India and Iran has also ruffled the Chinese feathers.
Chinese believe that Indian presence in the neighbourhood of Gwadar port (that it is developing in Pakistan) may also give a foothold to Americans as the two countries now share a logistics exchange agreement.
PM Modi’s outreach to countries like Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iran, Qatar and Afghanistan has further raised the eyebrows of the Chinese.  It is concerned over the impact of India’s new aggressive diplomacy over its client state Pakistan.
Should India retaliate against China?
India’s attempt to get entry into NSG may have failed this time but this is not end of the road for New Delhi.
As the Americans have pointed out, the process has begun and India may get the membership by end of this year. The American official pointed out that even in the case of India’s MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime) application, the members deliberated upon it for nearly a year and then arrived at a conclusion.
There have been suggestions that India should curtail trade opportunities for Chinese as a retaliatory measure but there is no unanimity among experts on that.
“This will be very immature. In international diplomacy, ups and downs are part and parcel of the game. Even Chinese have faced similar situations. There is no need for any knee-jerk reactions,” former diplomat TCA Rangachari pointed out.
Ambassador Rangachari is not the only one who advises against any knee-jerk reaction from India. Former diplomat Kishan S. Rana agrees with him.
“ It’s true that China is opposing India’s NSG bid and wants to support Pakistan on this issue. But we have to take every call with a cool mind,”  Ambassador Kishan S. Rana said.
On their part, both India and China look to keep each other engaged both bilaterally as well as on multilateral platforms.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be travelling to Hangchou in September to attend G20 summit while Chinese President Xi Jinping is coming to India in October to attend BRICS summit.
That India will be finally included in the NSG club is almost certain but whether Chinese will fall in line easily or will delay India’s entry for a longer duration remains to be seen.

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