China's last minute query at the Nuclear Suppliers Group in Vienna, Austria, was expected. While other members of the United Nations Security Council such as the United States, Russia, United Kingdom and France have been positive to Indian suggestions, China stood out without any statement regarding India's 123 Agreement with the US.
Despite a series of requests during the three strategic dialogues that India had with China in the last three years (specifically the last two dialogues), the Chinese side had not been able to provide any assurance in this regard. The reasons for such an intransigent posture could be in any of the following:
First, the last minute appeal of President George W Bush to President Hu Jinato is in keeping with US-China emerging dialogues on nuclear issues -- including on North Korea and Iran. Over the last few years, both have been discussing these issues with some intensity. Also, both hold a common view on the Pokhran tests and the aftermath -- when the #1172 resolution was passed in the United Nations Security Council.
Secondly, China as a status quoist power, would like to see the existing nuclear regime intact rather than experimenting with any other radical regime (such as the Proliferation Security Initiative, advocated by some in the US). Hence, from this Chinese point of view, the International Atomic Energy Agency /Nuclear Suppliers Group should emphasise on new aspirants to give up nuclear weapons and abide by the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.
Third, the quid pro quo arrived at between US and China in December 2004, when China was admitted into the NSG, is not clear. What we know about that event is in lieu of this admission -- US/UK Westinghouse would be given major contracts for setting up nuclear plants in various parts of China. We don't know the other deals in this regard. Possibly, President Bush may be invoking some of these when roping in President Hu
Finally, if negotiations are all about give and take and adjustments, what aspect of the deal would be attractive to China in giving its consent? Conversely, what aspects of the 123 Agreement would not be conducive to China? Perhaps, US-China last minute talks could have delved on these issues!