There is unusual and shocking stridence in China's very vocal stand, and its timing, demanding adherence to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as the criterion for India's membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Such insistence on being party to NPT as condition is just a foil to China's opposition to India's NSG entry. Are the roots of China's opposition geopolitical?
NSG's objectives in regard to non-proliferation are met by India's consistent policies and practices conforming to global export control norms, non-proliferation goals and nuclear disarmament. The exemption granted to India by the NSG in 2008 was in recognition of India's record, commitment and responsible behaviour.
Over the past decade or so since that exemption was given, nothing has been done that should give rise to any doubts about India's commitments and performance as a recipient of nuclear transfers to meet its mounting energy needs.
As the US qualified in its 'food for thought' paper before the NSG in 2011, adherence to NPT was one of the factors for consideration but not mandatory for entry to NSG which in the US view rested on a combination of several factors.
These factors add up to the overall impact of a country's policy and practice in support of global non-proliferation goals. US has since categorically stated at the highest level that it considers India as meeting the requirement to join the NSG as a member.
China and the NSG
China's association with NSG is comparatively recent. It was neither the founder nor shaper of the evolution of NSG. Nor for that matter has China been a long time standard bearer for the NPT. It began moving towards NPT in measured steps in the mid-nineteen eighties when it needed to import nuclear technology for power in the hay day of Sino-American bonhomie.
The Safeguards Agreement that China signed with the IAEA in 1988, INFCIRC/369, was a voluntary offer agreement along the lines of those done by the other P5 states i.e. nuclear weapon states.
However, in contrast with other P5, China makes no mention of NPT in INFCIRC/369.
In fact the 1992 accession of China to NPT might have been chronologically convenient in this regard. Be that as it may, China's subsequent agreement with the IAEA in 1998, which was an Additional Protocol to its 1988 safeguards agreement, even that makes no mention of NPT or China's commitment thereto. Thus even the legal commitments of China with the IAEA are bereft of any NPT reference while all other P5 make it a point to refer to the Treaty.
France, which like China, acceded to NPT in 1992 had maintained nonetheless that even from outside the treaty fold France behaves as if it was a party to NPT.
While acceding to the Treaty itself, China did so as a nuclear weapon state and thus was absolved of any verifiable obligation. China's statement at the time of accession played down legal implication of the preamble and Article VI concerning cessation of the arms race and nuclear disarmament.
That statement wrapped the legal aspects of its treaty commitment in a welter of generalities. It is worth pointing out that China at that time (in December 1991) had formally declared that it would first like the countries with the largest nuclear arsenals to make drastic reductions.
Disarmament was extensive and promising then as things stood in end 1991 between Washington and Moscow (after Soviet collapse). In the past quarter century, from the stockpiles of much more than fifty thousand weapons the US and Russian Federation have brought numbers down to around 1500 each - which still does not qualify for the "drastic" reductions for China to join the process. And as for the arsenals of France and UK, according to western assessments even Pakistan is rearing to surpass them within a decade.
Furthermore, there were certain expectations of the 2010 NPT Review Conference from the P5. However, the non-proliferation annals do not find Chinese record edifying in the least in meeting those expectations even partially as compared to P5 peers. This makes it hard to dismiss comments that China generally has a free ride in the global order.
Whenever the UN Security Council deliberated on North Korean defiance through nuclear tests in flagrant violation of international norms what would be China's counsel? It advised US and other concerned parties to the Six Party dialogue to engage with North Korea and called for all round restraint, thereby, implicitly condoning North Korean tests as common responsibility of Japan, South Korea and the US.
Only lately has there been some glacial movement on China's part when the impact of Iran deal on global opinion is in stark contrast to North Korea's January 2016 "Hydrogen Bomb", and subsequent missile tests.
This short foray into China's record on NPT is based on well documented accounts. And one has avoided on purpose details of the story of China's nuclear cooperation with Pakistan, for whose comfort perhaps Beijing now shocks India by displaying its hand on NSG entry.
China had last invoked the NPT for India in concert with the United States in the June 1998 Joint Statement while reacting to India's nuclear weapon tests. At that time China told India about "mainstream" global norms against nuclear tests - norms which it had conveniently flouted in 1996 just before finalisation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
At any hand, a great deal of diplomatic energy has since been fruitfully invested between not only India and the US but also between China and India. Much water has since flown in the rivers in China and India as the two countries have forged strong bilateral cooperation with 75 billion dollar of peak annual trade and sustained exchange of visits and dialogue at the highest levels.
China stridence about NSG can hardly be the zeal of a 'new convert' since it has scarcely treated NSG with the seriousness with which those who support India's entry have treated. US, France, UK, Russia as well as Germany, Canada, Australia and Japan attach due importance to the NSG and are in favour of India's entry.
An example of the high importance attached was the US Congressional requirement of a NSG waiver for India before a vote could take place on the India-US Agreement on Nuclear Cooperation. China, in contrast, while joining the NSG is reported to have explained away its transfer of Chashma 3 and 4 to Pakistan as the 'last transfers' under the so called grandfather clause.
Nonetheless, a decade later it contracted to supply several more reactors to Pakistan and explained nothing to the NSG. Therefore it comes as a jarring note when China expounds about NPT's criticality in regard to India's NSG admission.
Originally published by Catch News on 24 May 2016, here. Reprinted with permission.