For the first time today, China – which has been standing in the way of India becoming a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group – said the door to discussion on the subject “is open”. But it also took a swipe at the US for backing India's entry into the group, saying America was one of the countries responsible for the rule that countries which have not signed the NPT (like India) cannot join the NSG.
At the same time the Chinese foreign ministry asked the 48-member NSG to "stay focused" on whether membership criteria to the elite group should be changed.
"I have not seen the US statement supporting India? But US is one of those who made the rule that non-NPT countries should not join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)," Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a briefing of the media.
"The relevant rule was made on the principle that NPT was the cornerstone of the NSG," she said.
Hua's answer came in reply to a question about the US asking members of the NSG to support India's application.
"The door is open. The room is there. We never said we are against (a country). We did not target any country, India or Pakistan," Hua said.
China for its part, she said, cares about signing of the NPT as an admission criteria for new members, she said.
"This is the core of the international non-proliferation. If the non-proliferation regime is changed, how can we explain the Iranian nuclear treaty?" Hua argued.
"We just had a treaty with Iran. We have North Korean issues there... So this concerns the core issue whether NPT and non-proliferation system could be impacted by this," she said.
Reiterating what she said yesterday, Hua stated: "According to my understanding, it (entry of new members) is not on the agenda of the NSG meeting in Seoul."
"The door is open for the admission of the non-NPT members. It is never closed. It is open. But the members of the NSG should stay focussed on whether the criteria should be changed and whether non-NPT members should be admitted into the NSG," she said.
About the US backing India's bid for membership, Hua said, "We care about rules. US just sets the rules. This is not an issue between China and India but (about) the pillar for non-proliferation system," she said.
American support for India:
The US has affirmed its support for India joining the NSG and has asked other NSG member states to do so too.
"We believe, and this has been US policy for some time, that India is ready for membership and the United States calls on participating governments to support India's application at the plenary session of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)," White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters.
"At the same time, participating governments will need to reach a consensus decision in order to admit any applicant into the group and the United States will certainly be advocating for India's membership," Earnest said as the annual five-day plenary session of the 48-member club began in the South Korean capital yesterday.
While the majority of NSG members are backing India's entry into the NSG, it is understood that – apart from China – Turkey, South Africa, Ireland and New Zealand are not in favour. The NSG works under the principle of consensus and even one country's vote against India will scuttle its bid.
'If India gets in, so does Pakistan'
China opposes India's entry, arguing that it has not signed the NPT. But it has been batting for close ally Pakistan's entry into the NSG should the group allow India any exemptions.
Pakistan applied for NSG membership a week after India submitted its application.
India – citing the case of France, and saying that it's a precedent – has said that being a signatory to the NPT is not essential to joining the NSG.
India is seeking membership to the NSG to enable it to trade in and export nuclear technology.
Access to the NSG, which regulates the global trade in nuclear technology, is expected to open up the international market to energy-starved India, which has an ambitious energy-generation programme. India is looking at meeting a 63,000 MW-energy requirement by 2030 via its nuclear programme.