There has been considerable heat and controversy over India’s admission to the 48-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) being blocked by a “Great Wall of China”, especially constructed to block our entry by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
President Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao, had yielded to pressures from US President George W Bush in 2008 and withdrawn objections to ending NSG sanctions against India.
Interestingly, the very creation of the NSG was because of Indira Gandhi’s “Peaceful Nuclear Explosion” (PNE), codenamed “Buddha is Smiling”, in Pokhran on May 18, 1974, which was Buddha Purnima!
The PNE sent shockwaves across the world. Meetings spearheaded by the US and the UK, and backed by Moscow, set up the “London Club”, later renamed the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), in 1975.
The primary aim of the NSG was take measures to deny crucial materials and sensitive technologies to countries like India. These measures not only crippled India’s nuclear power programme, but also our access to high technology, characterised as “dual use”.
But they had little impact on India accumulating enough fissile material, for a viable nuclear weapons programme.
Relief to India from NSG sanctions came unexpectedly when President Bush decided to end nuclear sanctions against India, while enlisting it as a “strategic partner”.
The then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seized this opportunity, despite opposition from high levels in his party and Beijing’s “fellow travellers”, its worthy Communist supporters. The US then led the effort to end global nuclear sanctions against India.
The US Congress amended American laws to accommodate civilian nuclear cooperation and trade with India in 2006. The Bush administration then took the lead in securing an end to NSG sanctions on India.
Major nuclear suppliers like Russia, Germany, Canada, France and UK were on board. The first NSG meeting on August 21-22, 2008, was inconclusive, with China leading countries with reservations – primarily Austria, Switzerland, Norway, Ireland and New Zealand.
A fortnight later, following direct intervention by President Bush, China relented and the NSG ended sanctions on September 6, 2008.
The end of sanctions was not unconditional. India pledged to separate its weapons-related facilities from those used exclusively for peaceful purposes.
It accepted IAEA norms of inspections and safeguards on all exclusively peaceful nuclear facilities. India also pledged to continue its voluntary moratorium on testing nuclear weapons and not share sensitive or dual-use weapons-related technology or material with others and sign a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty.
India thus obtained a special status in the NSG, wherein it became eligible for international nuclear cooperation and trade.
It is, therefore, ludicrous that after the NSG had cleared India for global nuclear trade, it should now seek to deny it membership, by linking this membership to a broader policy on dealing with countries which have not signed the NPT.
The driving force behind this denial is China. No country has a more dubious record on nuclear non-proliferation than China.
When the NPT was concluded in 1968, China refused to accede the Treaty for a quarter of a century, describing the treaty as an instrument of “hegemony”.
Moreover, while China acceded to the NPT in 1992, it chose to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group only in 2004. It had by then become the worst proliferator of nuclear weapons materials, equipment and designs in the world.
The primary recipient of Beijing’s nuclear generosity was its “all-weather friend” Pakistan.
Western observers have gone to the extent of saying that there would be no Pakistan nuclear weapons programme without China’s assistance.
Interestingly, some of the early weapons designs, which China transferred to Pakistan, were in turn passed on by Dr AQ Khan to recipients like Libya.
Pakistan’s entire Plutonium weapons programme owes its existence to Chinese assistance, which also modernised its uranium enrichment capabilities.
The recently published book, China-Pakistan Axis: Asia’s New Geopolitics, by US-based analyst Andrew Small, exposes China’s dubious proliferation record.
Foreign secretary S Jaishankar presented India’s case on NSG membership to all its 48 members in a meticulously crafted 300-page document on May 8. This presentation included details of India’s needs for “clean” nuclear energy.
It recounted its fulfilment of all assurances given to the NSG in 2008 and its spotless record on not transferring sensitive dual-use technologies.
It was noted that to fulfil its commitments on climate change, India needed to add 44,000MW of nuclear power, with its domestic companies increasingly becoming a part of the global nuclear supply chain.
India has also emerged as the largest producer of “Heavy Water” in the world, with exports to countries ranging from South Korea and the US to China and France.
Despite all this, the quest for NSG membership has now moved to peripheral issues like criteria for membership.
But we can be confident that with perseverance and patience we will succeed in our efforts.
This experience should leave India with no doubt that China remains a formidable diplomatic adversary to what it increasingly sees as a rising India across the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea.
The time has come for us to internationally expose China’s dubious proliferation record and factor in China’s international vulnerabilities, particularly tensions in its relations with neighbours like Vietnam, Japan and Indonesia.