Beijing blusters over India's
nuclear deal By Siddharth
NEW DELHI - Will the goodwill
that has been built between India and China in the
recent past end up being sacrificed at the altar
of improved India-US relations? In another
indication that there may be trouble brewing
between Beijing and New Delhi, the official
Chinese media have made a frontal assault on the
landmark India-US nuclear pact and cautioned of
its "negative impact" on the global nuclear order.
This is the first instance of a direct and
open criticism of a crucial aspect of India-US
relations that has been picked up by the official
Chinese machinery/organs, which previously chose
to be quiet about the nuclear deal inked between
Manmohan Singh and President
George W Bush in July.
fusillade runs the risk of opening up other
niggling issues between India and China, such as
the border questions that have been set aside in
the interest of building trade and business
between the two countries.
In the past few
months, Beijing has found itself ranged against
India at the International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA) on Iran and the Nuclear Supplier's Group
(NSG). However, China has never publicly
criticized the India-US nuclear agreement that
aims to recognize India as the sixth nuclear power
of the world as well as open up civilian nuclear
supplies, despite being a non-signatory of the
nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
There have been niggling issues between
India and Beijing recently. Beijing's involvement
in Nepal has upset New Delhi, with it conveying
its strong displeasure on the issue. Beijing has
sought to explain its lack of support to India's
quest for a seat in the UN Security Council due to
the bracketing with Japan in the G-4 (Brazil,
India, Japan and Germany).
have been no such exchanges about the India-US
nuclear agreement, until this frontal attack.
The Renmin Ribao, China's leading
political daily, has accused Washington of being
soft on India and deriding the NPT. Reproving the
US of "double standards" on nuclear proliferation,
the Renmin Ribao said if the US made a "nuclear
exception" for India, other powers could do the
same with their friends and weaken the global
"Now that the
United States buys another country in with nuclear
technologies in defiance of international treaty,
other nuclear suppliers also have their own
partners of interest as well as good reasons to
copy what the United States did," Renmin Ribao
"A domino effect of nuclear
proliferation, once turned into reality, will
definitely lead to global nuclear proliferation
and competition," the paper added. The Chinese
criticism of the India-US nuclear pact is in
contrast to the solid support for the deal from
Russia, France, Britain and Canada.
Commenting on the shift in US nuclear
policy toward India, Renmin Ribao questioned: "US
acts leave people more and more dubious: is it
striving to prevent nuclear proliferation or
actively pushing in the opposite direction?
"Always calling itself a 'guard' for
nuclear proliferation prevention, the United
States often condemns other countries for
irresponsible transfers but this time, it
hesitates not a bit in revising laws, taking the
lead in 'making an exception'," for India," Renmin
Ribao wrote, warning "this will bring about a
series of negative impacts".
aggressively and openly joining the voices against
the India-US nuclear deal, New Delhi's quest for
nuclear technology is turning knottier by the day.
A reflection of Chinese thinking comes in the face
of last month's meeting of the 45-nation NSG in
Vienna that put off action on the US proposal to
lift restraints on transferring nuclear technology
to India. According to reports, there was positive
feedback to the proposal at the group's meeting,
but a "decision was deferred until the future".
At the meeting, Britain, France, Germany,
Russia, Czech Republic and Canada were generally
supportive, but Sweden and New Zealand asked "hard
questions", while Japan seemed wary of the India
deal, officials have been quoted. These countries
want a permanent regime change rather than making
an exception for India.
reports, China, Brazil, South Korea and Austria
were among the countries that opposed any nuclear
supplies to India. Countries such as South Africa,
Brazil and Argentina that voluntarily dismantled
their nuclear weapons program to join the
non-proliferation regime are against any move to
grant a special status to India.
Commenting on the Renmin Ribao piece,
foreign policy analyst C Raja Mohan said, "India
might be willing to countenance the talk of
nuclear 'double standards' from the White Knights
of the Western world like Sweden or Ireland.
India, however, will be deeply troubled by at
similar rhetoric from Beijing."
which bitterly complained about China's support
for Pakistan's nuclear weapons program in the
1980s and Islamabad's missile capabilities in the
1990s, will find it a bit rich if Beijing now
opposes international civilian nuclear energy
cooperation with India in the name of double
"India has been willing to
overlook the extraordinary campaign by Beijing to
defeat the attempt by the G-4 - India, Japan,
Germany and Brazil - to expand the permanent
membership of the UN Security Council earlier this
year," Mohan said. "China explained away this
campaign by saying that the target was Japan and
not India. A similar campaign on denying the
benefits of civilian nuclear energy cooperation to
India could reopen New Delhi's many past
grievances against Beijing."
Delhi does understand that there are vexed issues
to be addressed that are going to take some time
before the nuclear supplies open up. The NSG is
scheduled to meet only in May unless a special
meeting (there is one to discuss Iran) is called
to change the rules.
There will be other
tricky areas to cover, including the number of
nuclear facilities India agrees to place under
IAEA safeguards (by separating civilian and
military installations) and how quickly it does
Hearings at the US Congress are going
to be tough, where India's proximity with Tehran
will be scrutinized. India's stand on the November
24 vote of the IAEA, that will decide whether
Tehran will be referred to the UN for sanctions,
will be crucial as far as support from the US is
New Delhi will also like to
ensure that any exception in its case will not be
used by Pakistan, which is also aiming for some
nuclear leeway in the NSG. New Delhi has never
been comfortable with Beijing's proximity with
Pakistan in turn is looking to
leapfrog on a US promise to open civilian nuclear
interactions with India, despite the allegations
of proliferation in the past. Pakistan has
formally approached the NSG seeking a deal similar
to the one between the US and India to produce
nuclear power, saying that it needed more atomic
power plants to meet future energy requirements.
Given that Pakistan continues to be a
crucial ally in Washington's "war on terror",
Islamabad's concerns cannot be completely ignored.
The US has been trying to mollify Pakistan through
military sops. In the past, President George W
Bush has spoken to President General Pervez
Musharraf and assured him that the India-US
nuclear pact was not directed against Pakistan and
would not in any way tilt the "balance of power"
in South Asia. Some observers say that ultimately
US will end up supplying nuclear reactors to
Pakistan as well.
However, analysts agree
that the nuclear deal will come through given the
lucrative market that India offers, though nobody
hazards a time frame. India will hope that the
hurdles will be overcome at the US Congress before
May when the NSG is likely to look to change the
Several powerful nations do not
want to lose out on the nuclear contracts that are
likely to follow. Russia sees India as a major
market and has been keen on expanding nuclear
links with India. French President Jacques Chirac
has been the first international leader to speak
of the need to accommodate India into the global
nuclear order. British Prime Minister Tony Blair
has endorsed the US decision, while Canada's move
to renew civil nuclear energy cooperation
following India's vote against Iran at the IAEA
has been a big bonus.
India has been
closely watching China, which has recently become
a member of the NSG. By launching such a strong
criticism, India's aspirations have turned that
much more difficult.
Srivastava is a New Delhi-based