New Delhi: The Chinese Foreign Minister is due in India this week for bilateral talks. China is likely to canvass India’s support for its illegitimate claims on the South China Sea. How should India respond? Politely but firmly, India must tell China it is wrong, and in clear breach of international law.

There might be temptation on the Indian side to bargain with China: If China drops its objections to India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group, India may soft pedal the South China Sea issue. That would be a blunder. Expansionism must be resisted at all cost.

India seeks entry into NSG on a principled basis. Throughout its history as a nuclear power, it has adhered to the spirit of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The Treaty is discriminatory. It sets out an arbitrary cut-off date for who is and who cannot be a nuclear power in the NPT regime. If India had exploded a nuclear devise before China did in 1964, India would have gained nuclear acceptance prior to China. This is not a rule-based approach. This is absurdity.

China has used NPT to deny nuclear recognition to India or grant hyphenated recognition alongwith Pakistan. India is not concerned with Pakistan’s status. Its record as a serial proliferator with the complicity of China is well-known to the world. India should not expect fairness from China now or ever.

The desperation on India’s part to join NSG is clearly uncalled for. As a matter of principle and sound strategy, India should be part of NSG. NSG membership confers advantages. Since the waiver accorded with the Indo-US nuclear deal, some of the advantages have already materialized.

Importantly, India can import uranium fuel for power reactors. India does not require nuclear technology. It has mastered the entire nuclear cycle. In the present state, on the whole, India is not greatly deprived lacking NSG membership. The diplomacy of Narendra Modi’s government should focus on making NSG membership inevitable in the short term which is good enough.

But NSG membership does not equal India’s stake in freedom of navigation in the South and East China Seas. If China is permitted an illegal grab at one place, it will be tempted to replicate it in another. Chinese frontier violations in Ladakh, Uttarakhand and off and on in the eastern sector reveal China’s expansionist mindset. China should not be appeased.

India must remain on the side of a rule-based approach to international relations. Its interests would be protected if it stays wedded to legitimacy. China’s illegal actions in the South China Sea must be exposed for what they are. This is not 1962 with a weak Prime Minister leading a weaker country. India has to support justice in East Asia.

What China is attempting is divide and rule. It has managed this to some extent in ASEAN with puppet states like Cambodia and Laos towing its line. The Great and major powers are not amenable to Chinese expansionism. India is critical in this calculation and it must play straight. It should do the right thing and not look back. This is how rising powers come into their own.

At the same time, there should be no juvenile rhetoric of revenging on the Chinese for blocking India at the NSG. Mature nations deal with strategic matters unemotionally. China is wrong. There can be no compromise on the South China Sea dispute if it means handing over vast bodies of water to one country.

China should be made to realize once and for all that it is not the Middle Kingdom.