NEW DELHI India on Tuesday said it had held "substantive" talks with China on its bid to become a fully fledged member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a club of nations that trades in civil nuclear technology.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is campaigning to join the NSG to back a multi-billion-dollar drive to build nuclear power plants in partnership with Russia, the United States and France, and reduce India's reliance on polluting fossil fuels.
Yet his bid to win accession to the 48-member group, founded in response to India's first atomic weapons test in 1974, has so far failed to win over strategic rival Beijing, which enjoys a de facto veto because the group operates by consensus.
India's foreign ministry said in a statement that its chief nuclear negotiator, Amandeep Singh Gill, had hosted a Chinese delegation led by Director General Wang Qun of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The talks, agreed earlier by the two countries' foreign ministers, covered issues of mutual interest in the areas of disarmament and non-proliferation, and focused on India's bid to join the NSG.
"The discussions were candid, pragmatic and substantive," the foreign ministry said, adding that further talks would be held.
China's Foreign Ministry, in its statement on the talks, said the issue of countries which are not signatories to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty joining the NSG was a "new issue" for the group.
China is willing to hold talks on the issue, but does not yet have a position on the joining of the group by any specific country that has not signed the treaty, the ministry added.
The treaty recognises the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council - the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France - as nuclear weapons powers but not others.
India has ruled out signing the NPT but says its track record of non-proliferation should entitle it to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group. India was granted an NSG waiver in 2008 that allows it to engage in nuclear commerce, but deprives it of a vote in the organisation's decision making.
Backers of India's NSG bid, which include the United States, hope a deal can still be reached despite a setback at the group's annual meeting in Seoul in June.
Modi will host Chinese President Xi Jinping at a summit of the BRICS emerging markets caucus in the Indian resort state of Goa in mid-October.
(Reporting by Douglas Busvine; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)