June 18, 2018

Indialogue: No Progress on NSG Membership Despite Indian Pushes at Latvia Plenary


This week’s brief looks at India’s push for membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, confusion over India’s position regarding the Belt and Road Initiative, and a faltering deal regarding a naval base in the Seychelles. On domestic front, I look at Prime Minister Modi’s proposal to include lateral entry for certain position in the civil services.

- Aman

No Progress on NSG Membership Despite Indian Pushes at Latvia Plenary

Thursday and Friday, the Nuclear Suppliers Group met in Jurmala, Latvia where India continued it’s push for membership in the international organization that controls access to technology and guards against non-proliferation. India had initially applied for membership in the NSG in 2016, but was blocked due to opposition by China. However, after having “reset” relations with China, India had hoped that China would withdraw their objections to India’s membership. Indeed, Prime Minister Modi met Chinese President Xi Jinping twice in the last two months, once in Wuhan in April and again in Qingdao in June.

However, despite this push, there was no real headway at the plenary. Indeed, the NSG statement on said that it “continued to consider all aspects of the implementation of the 2008 Statement on Civil Nuclear Cooperation with India and discussed the NSG relationship with India.” Moreover, reports emerged that there seemed to be no public change in the Chinese position.

Expert Opinion: Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan notes “Becoming an NSG member would be a major foreign policy achievement for the Modi government but given China’s opposition, it is unlikely that this week’s plenary will see any forward movement. Nevertheless, given India’s technological advancements and its potential to engage in nuclear commerce in the future, it should be an imperative for the participating governments to bring India into the NSG tent rather than leave it outside.”

Translation Troubles over India’s Support (or Lack Thereof) for the BRI

Following the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s Summit, the member states released a statement on June 10 called the Qingdao Declaration. The initial English translation, which was uploaded to the SCO’s website, statedthat “Reaffirming their support for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)” of China, Kazhakstan, Kryrgyz Republic, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, “the Member States express appreciation for the joint efforts taken towards its implementation.” This translation didn’t make it clear whether the specific countries listed were the ones that supported the BRI, or all member states did. Indeed, China had been seeking unanimous support for the BRI at the summit.

However, India pointed out that it staunchly opposed the BRI due to sovereignty concerns, given that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor cuts through India-claimed and Pakistan-occupied territory in Kashmir. Indeed, Prime Minister Modi said that India “welcomes new connectivity projects that are inclusive, sustainable, transparent, and those that respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations” and reiterated that “connectivity with SCO and neighbours is a priority for India.”

Prime Minister Modi at the SCO Summit

Insight: Connectivity in Asia, and the BRI in particular, is likely going to be at the center of future ties, especially as the friction between India and China grows as they continue to face off in each other’s periphery. China has indeed tried to bring India into the fold as it has pitched India and Nepal a trans-Himalayan corridor similar to CPEC. While the “reset” may have created a surface-level thaw, this is likely a space where tensions are sure flare up once the honeymoon period of the post-Wuhan period is over.

Prime Minister Modi’s Proposes Lateral Entry into the Civil Services

Prime Minister Modi recently announced a proposal to invite professionals for a lateral entry into public service. The move would invite ‘talented and motivated’ individuals working outside the government to work as a Joint Secretary (typically a person heading a Ministry Division) in ten different sectors – agriculture, environment and climate change, revenue, financial services, road transport, shipping, new and renewable energy, civil aviation and commerce.

The move has attracted much controversy, as does any move that looks to reform the civil services at large. Indeed, lateral reform has been a subject of discussion since the mid-2000s, but has faced much opposition from specifically the Indian Administrative Service and also opposition parties no matter who was in power.

Opinion Round-up

Shah Faesal writes “The question is: what does an IAS officer bring to the table that a professional lateral entrant can’t? Take my example. I am a medical sciences graduate who qualified for the civil services examination with public administration and Urdu literature, got a hands-on training at the LBSNAA and went on to supervise agriculture, rural development, revenue administration as a district collector, and headed school education and energy sector of the state in the last eight years of my service. It is obvious that only an IAS officer can dare to dabble in so many subjects without having a formal educational background in any of these.”

Sanjay Dixit, a current IAS officer,notes “First, a three-year contractual joint secretary will carry no gravitas in the government system. Second, the criteria and method of selection are both opaque. Third, when Russi Mody could not shake the behemoth called Indian bureaucracy, what would you expect 10 poor joint secretaries to shake? They are just going to be ignored by the power structures in the ministry. The IAS, the IPS and other central services’ officers are not going to take these officers seriously.”

Smriti Kak Ramachandran reportsthat “The Centre’s decision to induct specialists at the joint secretary level through lateral recruitment has generated criticism from opposition parties and a Dalit member of Parliament from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over the new policy sidestepping caste-based reservations.”

Confusion Abound over Assumption Island Base in Seychelles

India is seeking clarification from the government of the Seychelles over the status of a joint project between the two countries to develop a naval base as Assumption Island in the Indian Ocean. Recent comments from Seychelles President Danny Faure cast doubt regarding the project when he said “In next year’s budget, we will put funds for us to build a coast guard facility on Assumption ourselves. It is important for us to ensure that we have a military post in this area.” Indeed, there has beengrowing opposition in Seychelles to the project.  

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Seychelles

India has requested that the President clarify his statements regarding what he meant, arguing that “while Seychelles funding its own coast guard facility was not an issue, India is hoping it would not be kept out of a project, envisaged as a 20-year agreement, that it sees as crucial to its strategic interests — particularly given China’s growing influence in the area.” Faure is slated to be in India on June 26 for a bilateral visit, and a complication on the naval base deal would significantly strain ties.

Insight: Given the location of the Island along key Indian Ocean maritime routes, India sees the development of this naval base a key part of its Indo-Pacific strategy, allowing it to help develop and manage aviation, maritime, and communications facilities, allowing it to monitor most, if not all, movements in the region.

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