Australia Group done, NSG next?

Last week, India became the 43rd member of the Australia Group, one of the four elite technology export control groups, the other three being MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime), Wassenaar Arrangement and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). India became a member of the MTCR and Wassenaar Arrangement in 2016 and 2017 respectively.

India's entry into the Australia Group on January 19, 2018 didn't surprise international relations observers as this was on expected lines. Joining three elite groups in three consecutive years is being considered a big 'diplomatic win', but the biggest hurdle is in the path of the most important of these control regimes - the NSG.

The NSG is a 48-member group of nuclear supplier countries that seeks to stem the proliferation of nuclear weapons through the implementation of two sets of guidelines for nuclear exports and nuclear-related exports. Last year, China, which is a member of the NSG, stonewalled India's entry into this group.

India's path into three of the four technology control regimes was relatively smooth because China is not a member of the MTCR, Australia Group or Wassenaar Arrangement. But gaining entry into the NSG will still be an uphill task because China's position on the matter hasn't changed since the NSG plenary meeting last year.

Officially, at least, Chinese objection is ostensibly based on a principle – that India is not a signatory to the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) and hence an exception cannot be made for New Delhi alone to become a part of a body which requires its members to have signed the 1968 treaty.

On the other hand, India has maintained its stand clearly that its desire to be part of all export control groups showcases its already strong 'non-proliferation' credentials. Secondly, the fact that none of the member countries of these regimes except China have thwarted New Delhi's entry into the groupings shows India's 'acceptance' to all other states in the system despite their knowing the fact that India is not a signatory to the NPT and is unlikely to sign it in the future.

India's position on the issue makes it clear that the Chinese objection is misguided. Why can't China bring itself to trust India while all the other members of the grouping do? The view in New Delhi is that China, by trying to block India's entry into NSG, is satisfying "other ends" than the non-proliferation principle - that China is objecting perhaps because it does not want India to become a part of the NSG since that would be, in a way, symbolic of India's rise in the international system, which China is loath  to acknowledge.

Entry into such a group indeed has great 'symbolic value'. China sees India as a potential rival and its rise in the Indian Ocean region can prove detrimental to China's hegemonic ambitions. Moreover, India's increasing proximity to the US and its decision to join the 'QUAD' - the US-India-Japan-Australia Quadrilateral Security Dialogue - has alarmed China.

Judged by its allies

With these recent developments, India is no longer being perceived as a 'non-aligned' nation by many countries, including China. Beijing is also looking into who India's 'allies' are and whether they can prove detrimental to China's objectives and ambitions as a major player in the international system or not.

The answer seems to be 'yes'. India is being judged by who its allies are. Secondly, geography is playing its role in the Chinese stand on India. India and China are neighbours that share a very long border. Had India and China not been neighbours or had India or China been located in different parts of the world, either the objection wouldn't have been raised or the nature of these objections would have been different.

There is always a competition between two major powers, and that competition heightens if they happen to be neighbours. This is the case with India and China, India being an 'emerging power' and China being a 'rising power' at around the same time and competing with each other for influence, if not to become the most powerful state, in the same region. While India is trying to catch up with China, the latter is trying to increase the 'power gap' between itself and India.

The reason why China objects to India's entry into the NSG or to India's ambition to gain a seat in the UN Security Council is that it fears that this 'power gap' which currently exists between the two countries would shrink if India achieves either or both. India's rise in the recent past has shown a real potential for this gap to be bridged in the future.

Given these realities, while India's persistent diplomatic effort in the recent past has raised expectations among many that India will sooner or later break into the NSG, China will do everything possible to prevent it. If despite China's opposition India does manage to get into the NSG, that would be the power politics equivalent of pulling a rabbit out of one's hat.

(The writer is Junior Research Fellow, School of International Studies, JNU)

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