Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Despite overwhelming support in favour of India’s joining the Nuclear Suppliers Group, China chose to cast its veto against even a discussion about Indian entry at the Seoul plenary on Friday. One question is whether Beijing was motivated by a desire to placate its closest ally, Pakistan, or a desire to contain India’s global standing.
Most analysts believe China was willing to ignore its diplomatic isolation and damage relations with India as, ultimately, it does not want to share major global podiums with New Delhi.
Jayadev Ranade, director of the Centre for China Analysis and Strategy in New Delhi, believes “the larger picture is China wants to keep us out so that they remain the dominant player in Asia. If we get into the NSG, this strengthens India’s candidature for a permanent UN Security Council seat.”
The argument is that with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and concerns about Islamist terrorism, while Pakistan is even more crucial to China’s strategic interests than before, Islamabad can hardly afford to severe its ties with Beijing.
“I am more inclined to believe China’s main goal is to keep India out without appearing to do so,” says Pakistan expert Dan Markey of the Council for Foreign Relations.
“Pakistan is more than just a fig-leaf, but China would also have found a way to manage Pakistan’s discontent if that’s all there was to the story.”
In his view, China’s willingness to openly block India’s entry into the NSG has proven that Beijing’s main driver was keeping India in its place.
“If China had folded – and let India in – and worked hard to placate Pakistan, then we have known that the main issue for Beijing was trying to keep Pakistan happy.”
As it was China put up a stiff fight and made demands that ensured neither India nor Pakistan could get in. “Then we know Beijing’s main goal is to keep India out.”
But not everyone rules out a Pakistan First motivation.
Andrew Small of the German Marshall Fund and author of The China-Pakistan Axis, in a blog written before the NSG plenary that “Pakistan has been the surprising pace-setter in Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road initiative, and over the last year Chinese intellectuals have taken to describing the country as China’s ‘one real ally’, with the relationship a ‘model to follow’…Standing up for Pakistan now is not only about the bilateral relationship but also about China’s reliability as a partner.”
Ultimately, keeping New Delhi down and holding Islamabad up are two sides of the same coin in Beijing’s strategic calculus. “China wants to keep India out; it also wants to make Pakistan happy,” says Teresita Schaffer of the Brookings Institute. “Two for the price of one.”