Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi’s visit comes amid fresh tensions in bilateral relations between the two neighbours. China’s insistence on adherence to the nuclear non-proliferation mechanism at the meeting of Nuclear Suppliers Group, which adopted a resolution on civil nuclear cooperation with India at the weekend, has been criticised widely by Indian officials.
China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi is on a three day visit to India
In a historic decision at the weekend, the Nuclear Suppliers Group lifted a 34-year old ban on nuclear trade with India, a country which has not signed the non-proliferation treaty. The move will now enable energy-hungry New Delhi to buy nuclear fuel, technology and reactors and is vital for its civilian nuclear deal with the US.
India was able to win the support of the 45 nation body only after it gave an assurance that it will stand by nuclear non-proliferation commitments and uphold a moratorium on testing atomic weapons. However critics fear the NSG’s approval sets a precedent allowing other nations to follow the suit.
One of the countries, which voiced its concerns at the NSG meeting in Vienna, was China. In a statement, Cheng Jingye, head of the Chinese delegation at Vienna, pointed out that Beijing hoped that the decision made by the group would ‘contribute to the goals of nuclear non-proliferation and peaceful use of nuclear power’.
The remarks have sparked disappointment among Indian experts and officials, who say Beijing had repeatedly assured India that it would not oppose a consensus on New Delhi’s inclusion in the NSG. Sujit Dutta, an expert on Chinese affairs at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis in New Delhi, finds Beijing’s stance surprising.
“When Indian PM Singh met Wen Jiabao earlier this year, the Chinese said they understood India’s energy requirements. They would not obstruct the deal. So what is this new position, why didn’t they mention this so-called non-proliferation earlier?”
N-deal for Pakistan?
In a bid to soothe ties, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu on Monday said Beijing welcomed the lifting of a nuclear embargo on India.
But she said that China's stance is that that all nations are entitled to use nuclear energy peacefully.
Though it is not clear what China means by "all nations", experts in India believe Beijing is seeking agreement with Pakistan now, which is Beijing’s key ally and is aspiring to use nuclear energy.
Expert Sujit Dutta explains: “Only three countries are outside NPT: India, Pakistan and Israel. Since Israel is not asking for it, so China is actually lobbying for Pakistan.”
Economic ties between New Delhi and Beijing have improved in recent years. Their bilateral trade currently accounts for more than 38 billion dollars and the two sides have agreed to double it by 2010.
However the mistrust, which was created between the two sides after a bitter border conflict in 1962, persists. Dietmar Rothermund is a professor of South Asian history at the University of Heidelberg in Germany:
“India is concerned that China has been doing a lot for Pakistan, whose nuclear programme is supported by China. Moreover China’s interest on the Indian Ocean has been seen in India with some degree of nervousness and tension.”
However he doesn’t believe that the two countries will resort to confrontation to resolve their differences: “Both countries are big and have their own problems and are not really keen on disputes with each other.”
The Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi is currently on a three day visit to India to boost bilateral ties. One of the key issues at the discussions will be the disputed 4,000-kilometre border, which is claimed by both sides. Both sides have so far held at least 11 rounds of talks over the boundary issue, which however have failed to produce any breakthrough.