The three-day August 12-14 visit of Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi to India has failed to make it clear whether Beijing would modify its negative, or what Chinese term as ‘principled’, stand on India’s entry into the exclusive 48-member Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG). The bottom line of a three-hour negotiation between Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and Wang on August 14 was that the two countries would appoint special negotiators to thrash out the issues involved.
What are the issues involved? For India, an entry into the NSG is no big deal, because it got a timeless waiver while negotiating the earlier deal with the group, following the signing of Indo-US nuclear agreement. Yet, New Delhi wants an entry for the heck of what it calls prestige.
At the time of NSG negotiations in the second fortnight of June, in a rather confusing play of words, a senior Indian functionary, commenting on the issue of entry, remarked that the question was whether we are sitting in the room or in the ante-room. The functionary forgot that the NSG isn’t like the UNSC where non-members have to literally sit in the ante-room adjoining the UNSC chamber to hear the outcome of a meeting.
So what does India want? The crux of New Delhi’s expectations may be support of Beijing on India’s entry into the UNSC as a permanent member. Of course, there is a host of other expectations like China’s support for India’s UN stand on Pakistan-sponsored terrorists, better terms of trade between the two countries, etc.
And what does China want? Its prime objective at the moment is to keep India neutral on the issue of South China Sea (SCS) dispute. The judgement by an international tribunal in The Hague, pronounced in the first fortnight of July, overwhelmingly supported and upheld the claims of the Philippines and has escalated global diplomatic pressure on Beijing to roll back its military expansion in the area.
By depriving certain outcrops of territorial-generating status, the ruling from the permanent court of arbitration effectively punched holes in China’s all-encompassing “nine-dash” line that stretches deep into the South China Sea.
The problem is India can’t play neutral even if it wants to: about 55 per cent of its global trade is accounted by the Asia-Pacific region, and, therefore, the freedom of navigation through the SCS region is vital to India’s survival.
That’s why New Delhi has made it clear to Beijing on several occasions that it stands by the right of the global community to freedom of navigation through the SCS.
India’s interests in the SCS region have further increased in recent times with the ONGC joining hands with its Vietnamese counterparts to explore for oil and gas in Hanoi’s offshore areas extending right up to Spratley islands which China has occupied by force.
India would grow weak and look weak if it compromises with China for the heck of entry into the NSG. May it be pointed out that the Hague-based permanent court of arbitration’s ruling on the SCS has also diluted China’s claim on Arunachal Pradesh and Tibet.
This has encouraged the NaMo administration to overcome India’s historical hesitations in dealing with the Chinese on its own terms.
As if to signal to Beijing that New Delhi can play the same game in China’s yards, it’s heightening its military and naval cooperation with the US, Japan, Australia, and most, importantly, with Vietnam which, in the geographic term, is China’s soft underbelly.
Further, by referring to the Balochistan crisis in his Independence Day address, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not only taken the battle inside Pakistan, but has also signaled to China that its grand plan of building an economic corridor through the Baloch area of Pakistan would come to a naught if Beijing continues to play spoilsport.