China calls for more talks on who can join nuclear suppliers group

(From left) Chinese President Xi Jinping, US President Barack Obama, India PM Narendrakumar Modi, and President of Georgia Giorgi Margvelashvili attend a working dinner in the East Room of the White House on March 31 in Washington, DC.
(From left) Chinese President Xi Jinping, US President Barack Obama, India PM Narendrakumar Modi, and President of Georgia Giorgi Margvelashvili attend a working dinner in the East Room of the White House on March 31 in Washington, DC.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING • China said more talks were needed to build a consensus on which countries can join the main group controlling access to sensitive nuclear technology, after a push by the United States to include India.

China is seen as leading opposition to the US move to include India in the 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

Other countries, including New Zealand, Turkey, South Africa and Austria, also oppose Indian membership, according to diplomats.

The NSG aims to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons by restricting the sale of items that can be used to make those arms. It was set up in response to India's first nuclear test in 1974.

India already enjoys most of the benefits of membership under a 2008 exemption to NSG rules granted to support its nuclear cooperation deal with Washington, even though India has developed atomic weapons and never signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the main global arms control pact.

In a statement released online yesterday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said "large differences" remain over the issue of non-NPT countries joining the NSG.

China is seen as leading opposition to the US move to include India in the 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Other countries, including New Zealand, Turkey, South Africa and Austria, also oppose Indian membership, according to diplomats.

"With regard to what to do on the issue of non-NPT signatories joining (the NSG), China consistently supports having ample discussion on this to seek consensus and agreement and come to a unanimous decision," Mr Hong said.

China's stance is applicable to all non-signatories to the NPT, not just certain countries, he noted.

"The NPT is the political and legal basis for the entire international non-proliferation system," Mr Hong said, adding that China would support the group in further talks to come to a consensus at an early date.

Opponents argue that granting India membership would further undermine efforts to prevent proliferation.

It would also infuriate India's rival Pakistan, which responded to India's membership bid with one of its own and has the backing of its close ally China.

Pakistan joining would be unacceptable to many, given its track record. The scientist who headed its nuclear weapons programme ran an illicit network for years that sold nuclear secrets to countries including North Korea and Iran.

A decision on Indian membership is not expected before an NSG plenary meeting in Seoul on June 20, but diplomats have said Washington has been pressuring holdouts.

Most of the holdouts oppose the idea of admitting a non-NPT state such as India and argue that if it is to be admitted, it should be under criteria that apply equally to all states rather than under a "tailor-made" solution for a US ally.

In the statement, Mr Hong also denied that a discussion was held on India and other non-NPT countries' admission to the NSG at an unofficial meeting held on Thursday.

The meeting was called by the Argentine ambassador who holds the NSG rotating chairmanship.

REUTERS, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 13, 2016, with the headline 'China calls for more talks on who can join nuclear suppliers group'. Print Edition | Subscribe