India's hopes of making progress towards NSG membership at the plenary meeting of the 48-nation grouping which began in Seoul on Monday received a setback with China saying that this was not even on the agenda of the meeting.
Nuclear Suppliers Group remains divided over non-NPT countries like India becoming its members, China's Foreign India's NSG bid suffers setback;China says issue not on agenda
Nuclear Suppliers Group remains divided over non-NPT countries like India becoming its members, China's Foreign Ministry said 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."
Even as the 5-day annual NSG Plenary began in the South Korean capital, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying in Beijing said that India's admission into NSG was not on the agenda.
"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," she said.
Beijing's response came a day after Swaraj at a press conference in New Delhi had said "China is not opposing membership of India in NSG, it is only talking of criteria and procedure. I am hopeful that we would be able to convince China as well to support our entry to the NSG."
Officials in New Delhi sought to downplay the snub with the MEA spokesperson saying that India remained "optimist".
The main meeting of the NSG Plenary on June 24 comes a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi will travel to Tashkent for SCO Summit, which is also being attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Modi may meet Xi during which he is expected to raise the issue of India's NSG membership but whether the discussions will lead to break in the logjam is a moot point.
"China maintains that NSG should have through discussion on the joining of the non-NPT countries in a way agreed by all parties, so as to make a decision based on agreement. This position is not directed against any country and applies to all non-NPT states," Hua said.
India's case for NSG membership is being strongly pushed by the US, which has written to other members to support India's bid at the plenary meeting of the group in Seoul.
While majority of the elite group members backed India's membership, it is understood that apart from China, countries like Turkey, South Africa, Ireland and New Zealand were not in favour of India's entry into the NSG.
China maintains opposition to India's entry, arguing that it has not signed Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. However, it has been batting for its close ally Pakistan's entry if NSG extends any exemption for India.
India has asserted that being a signatory to the NPT was not essential for joining the NSG as there has been a precedent in this regard, citing the case of France.
India is seeking membership of NSG to enable it to trade in and export nuclear technology. The access to the NSG, which regulates the global trade of nuclear technology, is expected to open up the international market for energy-starved India, which has an ambitious energy generation programme.
India is looking at 63,000 MW energy requirement through nuclear programme by 2030.
The NSG looks after critical issues relating to nuclear sector and its members are allowed to trade in and export nuclear technology. Membership of the grouping will help India significantly expand its atomic energy sector.
India has been reaching out to NSG member countries seeking support for its entry. The NSG works under the principle of consensus and even one country's vote against India will scuttle its bid.