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China wait-and-watch on nuke googly

New Delhi, June 5: China is concerned over foreign minister K. Natwar Singh’s proposal of a common nuclear doctrine for India, China and Pakistan but seems to have decided to assess whether the remark was rhetorical or indicated a shift in India’s position before commenting on it.

Singh’s proposal on Tuesday created a flutter in diplomatic circles, in the Indian capital and those of its neighbours. It raised quite a few eyebrows in China as Beijing is not sure what Delhi is up to.

Chinese ambassador in Delhi Hua Junduo called on Singh on Friday to get a better understanding of what he had in mind. The foreign minister is reported to have said that his proposal was not new — it was part of the Congress’ disarmament plans put forward by Rajiv Gandhi in the eighties. The proposal, further refined by the party, is well thought out, he said.

Chinese officials refused to comment on whether Singh’s explanation satisfied Junduo. But indications are that China will hold fire for the time being.

China’s worries stem from two factors: the common doctrine itself and the attempt of the new dispensation in Delhi to bracket Pakistan and China.

India’s northern neighbour became a declared nuclear power in 1965 and has since joined the exclusive nuclear club alongside the US, Britain, France and Russia. The five countries are also permanent members of the UN Security Council with veto power.

It is unlikely that China will want to get into a nuclear dialogue with India and Pakistan to make things easier for the South Asian neighbours to be recognised as nuclear powers.

Beijing believes Delhi’s attempt to link Pakistan and China is apparent not only from Singh’s mooted common nuclear doctrine, but also his stress on using the Sino-Indian model in improving Delhi’s relations with Islamabad.

This model suggests keeping contentious issues like Kashmir on the backburner till there is an overall improvement in bilateral ties between India and Pakistan. With China, India has decided to keep the sticky boundary dispute aside and concentrate on other areas of mutual benefit and interest to strengthen ties.

China’s close ties with Pakistan have long been a thorn in India’s side. Delhi has often accused Beijing of using the Indo-Pak dispute to keep India tied to South Asia. But over the past few years, things seemed to have changed.

China assured India that its relations with Delhi were independent of its ties with Islamabad and there should not be any attempt to link the two. This policy had seemed acceptable to the Indians.

Now there is growing worry among sections in India as well as in China that the United Progressive Alliance government is making a fresh attempt to rake up the China-Pakistan linkage.

Despite these worries, China seems to have decided, for the time being, not to make any official comment on Singh’s remarks. It will wait and watch whether Delhi’s policy towards Beijing is changing.

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