India NSG membership China
China stonewalled India's attempts for NSG membership during last year's plenary session of the 48-member group Reuters file photo

China has once again hinted at blocking India's bid to join the elite Nuclear Suppliers' Group (NSG). It has ruled out backing Delhi saying India's membership bid has become "more complicated" under the "new circumstances".

"About the Nuclear Suppliers Group it is a new issue under the new circumstances and it is more complicated than the previously imagined," China's assistant minister of foreign affairs Li Huilai told a news briefing on Monday (5 June), without elaborating what the news circumstances are.

It is not the first time China has moved to thwart India's attempt to join the 48-member NSG.

Last month, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told the media that Beijing had no plans to change its stance on admitting India into the NSG as it has not yet signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which is mandatory to gain entry into the nuclear club.

"China's position on the non-NPT members' participation in the NSG has not changed," Hua said when asked about India's chances of gaining entry into the group during this month's plenary session.

The last plenary session was held in the South Korean capital Seoul in June 2016, where China stonewalled India's membership bid although it has the backing of a majority of the members, including the US, UK, Japan and France. The leaders took no decision on admitting Delhi into the group as the members remained divided over permitting non-NPT members.

The group takes the consensus approach to admit any new member.

This year's plenary session is scheduled to take place in the Swiss capital Bern later this month.

Pakistan has also sent a bid to join the NSG, but there was no discussion on it during last year's plenary session. While China has not openly supported Islamabad's membership, it suggested coming up with a "two-step" approach.

In the first stage, the NSG members are required to explore and reach an agreement on a non-discriminatory formula applicable to all non-NPT states. In the second stage, they proceed to take up country-specific membership issues.

China has long expressed its readiness to actively participate in this process within the group.

China's comments come ahead of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping's meeting during the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit to be held at Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, on 8-9 June.

Modi's counterpart in Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, is also expected to attend the summit. It is reported to be the first time India and Pakistan have been accepted as new members of the organisation.