In an unusual move, China on Tuesday defended Pakistan's nuclear record, saying it was AQ Khan who was responsible for atomic proliferation which was not backed by the government. Chinese state media argued that any exemption to India for NSG entry should also be given to Pakistan.
"While India strives for Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) inclusion, it prevents Pakistan from joining by insisting on the latter's bad record of nuclear proliferation. Actually, the proliferation carried out by Pakistan was done by Abdul Qadeer Khan, Pakistan's chief nuclear scientist, and was not an official policy of the Pakistani government," an article in the state-run Global Times said.
"Khan was punished by the government afterwards with several years of house arrest. If the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the NSG can give India an exemption, it should apply to Pakistan as well," it said.
This is the first time Chinese media has directly made a case for Pakistan's inclusion in the NSG. China officially maintains that there should be consensus about admitting all members.
"China and other countries are opposed to NSG including India while excluding Pakistan, because it means solving India's problem but creating another bigger problem. If India joins hands with Pakistan to seek NSG membership, it seems more pragmatic than joining alone," said the article, titled 'China no barrier to India joining NSG'.
India and Pakistan conducted nuclear tests in 1998, which were condemned by the international community. The US, the EU and Japan all imposed harsh sanctions on the two countries.
After the 11 September 2001 attacks, the sanctions were gradually lifted. The US also signed a Civil Nuclear Agreement with India. But the issue of the legitimacy of India's "nuclear status" has not been solved.
"If India and Pakistan are allowed to join the NPT and adopt the CTBT, it will tarnish the authority of both. How can nuclear weapons development in other countries such as North Korea, Iran and Israel be dealt with," the article said, blaming the proliferation from Pakistan squarely on nuclear scientist Khan.
Khan was disgraced in 2004 when he was forced to accept responsibility for nuclear technology proliferation and was made to live a life of official house arrest. In 2009, the Islamabad High Court declared Khan a free citizen of Pakistan, allowing him free movement inside the country.
The article from China comes even as the NSG kicks-off its meeting in Seoul.
The NSG remains divided over non-NPT countries like India becoming its members, China's Foreign Ministry had said yesterday - less than 24 hours after External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had exuded hope that "we would be able to convince China to support our entry to the NSG."
"We understand that non-NPT countries are concerned about their entry into the NSG. But since NSG is still divided about the issue, so it is still not mature to talk about the entry issue in the annual conference in Seoul," Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying had said.
"The NSG plenary meeting started Monday and will end Friday in Seoul. In a bid to become a member of NSG, the Indian government has launched a diplomatic offensive and Indian President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have embarked on foreign visits to win support from NSG member states," the article said.
"The NSG was set up by a group of countries that have civil nuclear technology, equipment and material export capabilities. It aims to achieve nuclear non-proliferation by preventing civil nuclear technology and material from being used to develop nuclear weapons," it noted.
A country must meet four requirements to become a member of the NSG. It must have the capacity to export civil nuclear technologies; it must abide by the guidelines of the NSG; it must have signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) or other regional non-proliferation treaties, the article said.
It also needs to provide "overarching and integrated legislation prohibiting unlawful activities in relation to Weapons of Mass Destruction and their delivery systems, it said.
"As a nuclear power, India has acquired the ability to export civil nuclear technologies. The NSG allows member countries to export civil nuclear technology, equipment and material to India. India's struggle to enter the NSG is also aimed at joining the global civil nuclear market"it added.
The article stated that despite not being an NSG member, India has been sticking to NSG guidelines and implementing rigorous export control policies to prevent nuclear proliferation.
India also "meets the last requirement and was admitted to membership of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) early this month," it said.
"The direct obstacle for India joining the NSG is that it has not signed the NPT or any other regional non-proliferation pact. The only exception for a non-NPT signatory is if it obtains consent from all NSG members. Countries such as Norway, New Zealand, South Africa and China all hold reservations about India's inclusion into the NSG... But some Indian media and scholars simply put the blame on China, accusing China of being hostile toward India, which misses the point," the article said.
"India joining NSG does not harm China's own interests. India advocates nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament and commits itself to no-first-use of nuclear weapons as China does. It could also help enhance bilateral cooperation in civil nuclear energies. Measures that can boost mutual trust could be established among China, India and Pakistan, the three nuclear powers in Asia," it said.
"Is it that simple that as long as India signs the NPT, it can join NSG? The source of conflicts comes from the dilemma of such mechanisms in accepting both India and Pakistan," the article said.
It is generally reckoned that countries that conducted nuclear tests before the UN General Assembly adopted the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996 are legitimate nuclear countries, while those that did so after the adoption of the CTBT are considered illegitimate, it argued.
"If the US is sincere in supporting India's NSG membership, it should not just cast its eyes on India's nuclear market. It should solve India's 'nuclear status' first so as to eradicate the contradictions between India and the existing international nuclear non-proliferation mechanism," it said.
-With agency inputs