President of South Africa Jacob Zuma (L) shaking hands with Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi (R) during a welcoming ceremony at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Narendra Modi is on a two-day official visit to South Africa, during which he will attend official talks with Jacob Zuma. EPA/GCIS/ELMOND JIYANE/HANDOUT

Johannesburg - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took many by surprise when he thanked President Jacob Zuma for South Africa's support for India's bid for full membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group in his noon address to the media at the Union Buildings on Friday.

“I would like to thank President Zuma for South Africa’s support for India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group. We know we can count on the active support of our friends like South Africa,” to which Zuma responded with a warm nod.

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Even the Indian journalists who had traveled to South Africa to cover Modi's visit were caught off guard by the announcement, as South Africa had previously expressed its reservations about India's bid for full membership as it is not a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

India was recently unsuccessful in winning over unanimous support for its bid at the NSG meeting in Seoul. It was one of Modi's main priorities in his visit to South Africa to convince Zuma to back India's bid before the next NSG meeting in October.

Modi's plan was to use his one on one meeting with Zuma to secure South Africa's support. It seems Modi was successful with Zuma, as he has been in most of his lobbying efforts with foreign heads of state over the past six months as he has zigzagged the globe in a concerted effort to mobilize support for India's bid.

The reason why inclusion in the NSG is so important to India is that it makes access to nuclear technology and the purchase of nuclear material significantly easier and cheaper.

Pakistan has engaged in vociferous behind the scenes lobbying against India's bid, as this would create a double standard which seriously disadvantages other nuclear states. In order for India to succeed in achieving full membership in the 48 member group, all members will have to be unanimous in their decision to accept India.

It is highly unlikely that China will ever agree to India's admission given its steadfast opposition, which it says is based on a matter of principle.

An editorial in China's state-run Global Times said recently,”Since its foundation in 1975, all NSG members shall be NPT signatories. This has become the primary principle of the organisation. Now India wants to be the first exception to join the NSG without signing the NPT. It is morally legitimate for China and other members to upset India's proposal in defense of principles,” Referring to US backing for India's bid, the editorial stated, “U.S. backing adds the biggest impetus to India's ambition. By cozying up to India, Washington's India policy actually serves the purpose of containing China.”