By C Uday Bhaskar*
Ahead of the Nuclear Security Group (NSG) meeting in Vienna on November 11, China has stated that there will be no change in its position about admitting new members who are non-signatories to the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT). A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman noted in Beijing: “This Friday in Vienna a plenary session of the NSG will be held. Our position is subject to no change as of date.”
The earlier Chinese position had been outlined in mid September when the officials of the two countries had met and at the time, the Beijing formulation was: “China supports the notion of a two-step approach within the (NSG) Group to address the above question, i.e., at the first stage, to explore and reach agreement on a non-discriminatory formula applicable to all the non-NPT states, and to proceed to take up country-specific membership issues at the second stage. China, for its part, expressed its readiness to actively participate in the above process within the group.”
Earlier this week the topmost Indian and Chinese officials at the level of the National Security Adviser met to review long-standing and unresolved issues – and the list is growing longer. The Hyderabad meeting was inconclusive – and predictably so.
It was evident at the Goa BRICS summit hosted by India in October, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping met, that Beijing was unlikely to accommodate Delhi’s expectation on the NSG membership and the terrorism issue related to Pakistan-based Masood Azhar and his proscription by the UN. Both issues are intertwined with the inflexible Sino-Pakistan strategic relationship.
In the intervening period India has raised the bilateral ante in the public domain and Delhi’s actions include allowing the visit by the US Ambassador to India to Arunachal Pradesh. This is to be followed by the visit of the Dalai Lama to the Tawang monastery in Arunachal Pradesh in March next year and Beijing has conveyed its concern in the matter – as it has consistently, since March 1959 when the Tibetan spiritual leader sought political exile in India.
Arunachal Pradesh is claimed by China and is perceived to be part of the unresolved territorial dispute with India that includes the brief October 1962 war. Thus the recent pattern of visits are likely to strain the bi-lateral relationship and concurrently test its resilience.
The visit of the Dalai Lama to Tawang has considerable spiritual symbolism for the Tibetan diaspora and it is unlikely that Delhi will allow this visit to be packaged in any political manner by the Tibetan government-in-exile. But Delhi would also be signalling its own resolve about treating Arunachal Pradesh as an integral part of India and thereby allowing visitors to ‘visit’ as it were – however high the visibility index.
In the past decade plus, the uneasy India-China bilateral relationship was seen as being tactically provocative on occasion – but strategically restrained and robust. This formulation will be on test in the near future even as both capitals await the identity of the next incumbent in the White House – for that in turn will have a significant bearing on the complex India-China-US relationship.
*C Uday Bhaskar is Director, Society for Policy Studies. He can be contacted at [email protected]