China has just tipped its hand in relation to India ahead of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) plenary in Seoul on June 24.
An op-ed in the Global Times (June 14) titled 'India mustn't let nuclear ambitions blind itself' gravely noted: "Beijing insists that a prerequisite of New Delhi's entry is that must be a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, (NPT) while India is not. Despite acknowledging this legal and systematic requirement, the Indian media called China's stance obstructionist." This brief comment is the first semi-official articulation of China on the NSG and predictably obfuscates the issue.
In making this assertion about the NPT, Beijing is being characteristically innovative and artful in how it first distorts and then presents various facts specific to the nuclear domain. Having based its objection to India's admission to the NSG on the charge that India is a non-signatory to the NPT , the op-ed (and by extension Beijing) glosses over the fact that there is a precedent which could be cited to advance the Indian case.
The NSG was conceived in November 1975 as a response to India's peaceful nuclear explosion of May 1974 and the original seven participating governments (not members) were Britain, Canada, France, Japan, the Soviet Union, the United States and West Germany. At the time, France was not a signatory to the NPT though it was a nuclear weapons state but was part of the NSG. And, for the record, Paris formally acceded to the NPT only in August 1992.
The NSG operates as an informal group that has certain guidelines. The participating governments have identified five factors for those nations seeking to join the group. Being a signatory to the NPT is one of the factors and may be desirable but, as the example of France has demonstrated, it is no bar to admission.
The ope-ed further avers that Beijing is convinced that the US "supply of nuclear technologies to enhance India's deterrence capability is to put China in check". This again is counter-factual for the entire US-India nuclear cooperation agreement mooted in 2005 and completed in late 2008 is only about the civilian nuclear spectrum and is totally non-military in nature.
China's artfulness and recourse to embroidered facts is embedded in the righteous anxiety it seeks to convey about an India-Pakistan nuclear arms race - an exigency that it posits as "a likely outcome" in the event India is admitted into the NSG.
The op-ed continues about the nuclear race: "This will not only paralyze regional security, but also jeopardize China's national interests." And the coup de grace that burnishes the Chinese halo of nuclear chastity is the allegation that India has little concern for regional security imperatives and that "South Asia is still facing the harsh reality that the region is mired in nuclear confrontation".
Facts again point to another narrative. Asia was weaponized in a nuclear sense when China detonated its first atomic weapon in October 1964 - albeit with help from Moscow. At the time, Chairman Mao was disparaging of nuclear deterrence and boasted that even if the US were to use its weapons against China, there would still be a million Chinese citizens who would rebuild the country.
When the NPT was introduced in 1970, Beijing was dismissive of it and called it a useless piece of paper. It came on board only in 1992 - a little before France. In the interim, for reasons that remain mired in opacity - Beijing was a robust WMD (weapons of mass destruction) supplier and enabled both North Korea and Pakistan to acquire missile and nuclear weapon technology and material.
Specific to South Asia, in an unprecedented initiative, Beijing provided a fully-assembled nuclear weapon to Pakistan in the late 1980s and this was tested at an undisclosed site in May 1990. This was the seed of nuclear tension in the sub-continent that has been kept alive for 25 years by the Sino-Pak combine and has been exacerbated by the audacious link with terrorism.
Rawalpindi, the HQ of the Pakistani Army, has assiduously nurtured radical Islam with jihad as the ideological underpinning and encouraged certain groups to use terror as a tool to de-stabilize India. The covert nuclear weapon capability provided by Beijing is the firewall behind which Rawalpindi has successfully enhanced its ability to invest in terror - and the November 2008 Mumbai attack is illustrative. In essence, Pakistan refined the strategy of NWET - nuclear weapon enabled terror - with tacit Chinese support.
Beijing is not unaware of this chronology of events but has chosen to ignore these 'facts'. The list of exclusions also extends to the extraordinary A.Q. Khan nuclear network that was nonchalantly swept under the carpet as the colossal greed of one man - even if the Pakistani Air Force was used to ferry the illicit material.
Thus, for China to pretend that it is an innocent victim of Indian perfidy flies against the facts on the ground. Yet Chinese diplomats, academics and analysts stubbornly refuse to acknowledge any of these inconvenient facts - despite considerable documentation on the subject in the public domain - and Beijing's ostrich act continues. Hence it is moot to ask if China has 'blinded' itself with such tenacious obfuscation of facts even while pointing a finger at India.
For India to be admitted at the Seoul plenary (June 24), consensus among the 48-member NSG is required. This may not be forthcoming for Pakistan has also made a similar application with strong Chinese support. Many NSG members are extremely uneasy about the NWET-A.Q. Khan DNA of the Pakistan military and a decision on enhancing the group may be deferred.
China is unlikely to alter its current orientation about the South Asian nuclear framework - which is to keep India in extended disequilibrium. In the face of such cynical realpolitik, New Delhi will have to review its own approach to the NSG and the political capital it wishes to expend in the run-up to Seoul.
(C. Uday Bhaskar is Director, Society for Policy Studies, New Delhi. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org <mailto:email@example.com>)