An Op-ed article in the Indian Express [24 May2016] “What Pranab Must Say to Beijing” has the following advice:The current political dispensation in Delhi may neither forgive nor forget Beijing’s blocking maneuver at the NSG. President Mukherji would also want to remind Beijing that an earlier BJP led government did not mince words in declaring the China threat and Beijing’s nuclear cooperation with Pakistan as the main reasons for India to go nuclear in 1998. That in turn had a chilling effect on bilateral relations for a brief while.
But what are the facts?*India carried out two nuclear tests on 11 and 13 May 1998.
*On 11 May PM Vajpayee wrote a confidential letter to President Clinton on the nuclear tests. The key para was as follows:
It was necessary to carry it out as India had an overt nuclear state on its borders that had carried out armed aggression against India in 1962 and that although relations had somewhat improved yet an atmosphere of distrust persists mainly due to the unresolved border problem.
*PM Vajpayee’s confidential letter was promptly leaked, reportedly by the White House, to the New York Times which published the full text on 13 May 1998.
*As could be expected, the Chinese were livid with anger against India.
*On 3 June 1998, President Jiang Zemin told AFP that ‘as India had originated the tense situation in the region, it was India that would have to untie the knot [emphasis added]’; if relations were to move forward.
* Meanwhile working in tandem, both the US and China co-sponsored UNSC resolution 1172 that not only ‘condemned’ the nuclear tests, but demanded both of India and Pakistan to refrain from further tests.
* President Clinton visited China and in a joint presidential statement issued on 27 June 1998 stated that both countries had a ‘shared interest’ in a strong non-proliferation regime in South Asia. Both US and China agreed to work closely together.
* When on 9 July 1998 India offered to sign a ‘no first use’ agreement with China, the latter point blank refused.
*Thus the Vajpayee government quickly realized that if normal relations with China were desirable; then amends would have to be made to mollify the Chinese.
* In October 1998, the PM’s office made a public statement that India did not see China as an enemy. Nor did India wish to enter into an arms race with China. President Narayanan also spoke to the Chinese Ambassador in Delhi on the same lines.
*During his visit to China 15-17 June 1999, the then EAM Jaswant Singh publicly stated that the Indian government ‘does not think that China is a threat’.
* Having mollified the Chinese it was on this basis that they finally agreed to move bilateral relations forward that eventually led to PM Vajpayee’s historic visit to China in 2003.