Friday 08 Oct 2021 | 06:47 | SYDNEY
Friday 08 Oct 2021 | 06:47 | SYDNEY

How bad was last week, really?


Rory Medcalf


8 September 2008 14:18

The Nuclear Suppliers Group decision to allow civilian nuclear trade with India is a chance to test some of the judgments I offered last week about rocky relations among major powers. I anticipated bad times ahead for US-India and China-India relations.

On the first count, things turned out differently. The US got its way, on India’s behalf, in persuading the NSG – including non-proliferation purists such as New Zealand, Ireland and Austria – to accept the deal, although it took this major eleventh-hour statement on India’s non-proliferation and disarmament intent and principles to help sway them. New Delhi now has every reason to be grateful to Washington, and US-India relations are likely to strengthen further – unless of course the US Congress still delays or withholds its approval of the deal. (And there is some other fallout: India is unhappy about a State Department document on the nuclear deal, published on the eve of the NSG meeting. The document may have helped persuade doubters in the NSG, but it is at odds with some domestic Indian rhetoric about the deal, especially on whether or not it prevents future Indian nuclear testing).

On China-India relations, events hewed closer to my script. China played its hand against India, voicing last-minute concerns about the non-proliferation consequences of giving India special nuclear status. So there will be mutterings in the corridors of New Delhi’s South Block today about Chinese perfidy – after all, India’s Prime Minister believed he had brought back certain understandings on this issue from his visit to Beijing in January. India reportedly even summoned the Chinese ambassador at 3am on Saturday for a dressing-down on China’s about-face.

What I failed to envisage was that China would behave clumsily. Beijing reportedly upset India by turning against New Delhi at the last minute, yet China still failed to secure the outcome it wanted. Chinese diplomats probably assumed the small nations weren’t going to budge. When they did, China looked isolated and dissenting – which is not the international image it wants and needs.  In the end, China did not block the NSG consensus. But the Indians won’t forget.

Yet diplomatic life goes on: China’s Foreign Minister is in India today, and can look forward to an evening of subcontinental cuisine and culture as the guest of his Indian counterpart. The conversation, too, is likely to be spicy and colourful.

Photo by Flickr user ferg2k, used under a Creative Commons license.