Indian President Pranab Mukherjee received a warm welcome in Guanzhou on Tuesday, as he arrived in China for a four-day official visit. Chinese Foreign Affairs Vice Minister Liu Zhenmin was present at the airport to receive the visiting Indian president. However, the Chinese political leadership made clear that Beijing would not change its stance on blocking India’s entry into the powerful Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in the current global geopolitical circumstances. The Asian giant also indicated that it would treat its “all-weather friend” Pakistan in the same manner, because Islamabad, like New Delhi, has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Ahead of President Mukherjee’s arrival, the Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a statement, saying: “China, along with other counties, has been maintaining that there should be a thorough discussion on whether non-NPT countries can join the NSG and this decision should be made on consensus. This applies to all non-NPT countries, including Pakistan.” Senior spokesperson of the Chinese ministry Hua Chunying told the media that President Xi Jinping and other leaders were eager to discuss the issue with President Mukherjee on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the visiting Indian president urged the Chinese leadership to soften its stand on India’s NSG membership bid, saying that New Delhi has always backed China’s inclusion in different global bodies. Speaking at a business forum in Guanzhou, he said that although the two Asian neighbours have areas of differences, India has tried hard to reduce the divergence and expand bilateral co-operation. India believes that “China’s presence must be there in multilateral organisations or else a huge population will be left unrepresented”, added Mukherjee. He once again requested Beijing to back India’s NSG membership bid, stressing that the development of Sino-Indian relations was phenomenal in the last two decades and India needs China’s help to become a member of the prestigious Group.

Earlier, New Delhi argued there was no binding rule that NSG membership is open only to signatories of NPT. India pointed out that France had become a member of the NSG even before signing the NPT. Hua countered New Delhi’s argument, saying: “France was a founder of the NSG. So, the issue of its acceptance to the NSG did not exist.” However, President Mukherjee, who arrived in China at the invitation of his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, said that he would try hard to push for India’s membership in NSG during his meeting with the top Chinese political leadership.

The first trip to China by an Indian Head of State in six years is an important one as far as the current global geopolitical scenario is concerned. For the last few years, the two Asian neighbours have been making serious efforts to emerge as great powers in the region. While China maintains close ties with Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal in an attempt to put its southern neighbour under pressure, India strengthens ties with Iran, Japan and the US to counter its northern neighbour’s growing influence in Asia and Asia Pacific.

China recently opposed India’s bid for NSG membership, as it urged other members of the Group not to entertain the membership proposal of a country that had refused to sign the NPT. With the US backing India’s membership bid, President Mukherjee plans to engage the Chinese leadership on India’s NSG membership. India has stepped up its conversations with China on the issue, as the NSG plenary (scheduled for June) draws near.

According to Indian foreign policy experts, even if President Mukherjee fails to break the ice in Beijing, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will get an opportunity to make a big push at the highest levels during his upcoming trip to the US. He will remind the Barrack Obama administration of its commitment to get India into the NSG. India is in a hurry because it knows that the Obama administration can be effective for the next few weeks. It will officially become a lame duck administration after August and India can make big diplomatic initiatives only after the US Presidential Election.

Foreign policy experts believe that President Mukherjee’s ongoing visit will certainly set off a series of high-level visits between the two countries who seek to bolster bilateral engagement in different fields, despite some outstanding bilateral issues. Although New Delhi has condemned Beijing’s attempts to block its bid at the UN to get hardline Pakistani leader Masood Azhar banned and sent naval fleet to the South China Sea, it wants to keep all the communication channels (with the Asian giant) open. New Delhi also wants to normalise ties with Beijing in order to ensure peace in the region.

As the president’s visit will be followed by Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Chinese city of Hangzhou, India will get enough chances to discuss outstanding issues with China. Modi will visit Hangzhou to participate in the G20 leaders summit on September 4-5. Later on October 15-16, President Xi will travel to India to take part in the BRICS (the acronym for an association of five major emerging national economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Summit scheduled to be held in Goa.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]