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Harsh Pant

Harsh Pant

Harsh is a contributor to ISN Security Watch

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China Set to Supply Pakistan with Two New Nuclear Reactors

As the UN’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference is underway in New York, reports that China is set to allow its state entities to supply two new nuclear reactors to Pakistan should be a matter of grave concern.

Chinese authorities have recently confirmed that China National Nuclear Cooperation has signed an agreement with Pakistan for two new nuclear reactors at the Chashma site - Chashma III and Chashma IV.

The move is in clear violation of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) guidelines that forbid nuclear transfers to countries who have not signed on to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or who do not adhere to comprehensive international safeguards on their nuclear program.

Ever since the US decided to conclude a civilian nuclear energy cooperation pact with India, China has indicated its displeasure through various means. With the exception of China, all other major global powers (the UK, France, Germany and Russia) have supported the US-India nuclear deal: They were eager to sell nuclear fuel, reactors and equipment to India. China, however, has requested that India sign the NPT and dismantle its nuclear weapons, saying that the US-India deal would “set a bad example for other countries.” 

Indeed, the US-India deal is in many ways a recognition of India’s rising global profile, which necessarily irks China. In response, Beijing quickly declared that it would seek to sell nuclear reactors to Pakistan. If Washington is going to play favourites, then Beijing will follow suit.

Pakistan had also demanded a similar agreement with the US, but the Bush administration had made clear that given Pakistan’s abysmal nuclear proliferation record - exemplified by the Abdul Qadeer Khan network – this would not happen.

When Islamabad reiterated its demand recently in its ministerial-level ‘Strategic Dialogue’ with the Obama administration, it was again turned down.

Still, a number of voices in Washington policy circles have a made a case for a civilian nuclear pact with Pakistan, especially as Islamabad’s support remains crucial to winning the war in Afghanistan. US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson reportedly suggested that the US was “beginning to have a discussion with the Pakistan government” on the country’s desire to tap nuclear energy. And there are indications now that the Obama administration is likely to accept China’s nuclear commerce with Pakistan in return for the former’s help in containing Iranian nuclear ambitions.

China shares a special relationship with Pakistan. Based on their convergent interests vis-à-vis India, China and Pakistan reached a strategic understanding in mid-1950s, a bond that has continued to strengthen. Sino-Pakistan ties gained particular momentum in aftermath of the 1962 Sino-Indian war when the two states signed a boundary agreement recognizing Chinese control over portions of disputed Kashmir. Since then, Chinese President Hu Jintao has gone as far as to describe the relationship as “higher than mountains and deeper than oceans.”

Maintaining close ties with China has been a priority for Islamabad, and Beijing has provided extensive economic, military and technical assistance to Pakistan over the years. The Pakistani nuclear weapons program is essentially an extension of the Chinese one.

China’s crucial role in the development of Pakistan’s nuclear infrastructure is well documented. Although China has long denied helping any nation attain nuclear capability, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, AQ Khan, himself has acknowledged the crucial role China played in his nation’s nuclear weaponization by gifting 50 kilograms of weapons-grade enriched uranium, nuclear weapons blueprints and tons of uranium hexafluoride for Pakistan’s centrifuges. This is perhaps the only case in which a nuclear weapon state has actually passed on weapons grade fissile material as well as a bomb design to a non-nuclear weapon state. Sino-Pakistan nuclear collusion has continued despite the fact that China is an NPT signatory.

China continues to view Pakistan as an important asset in countering India. While the Bush administration’s steadfast support for India prevented Beijing from pursuing a civil nuclear partnership with Islamabad, now Beijing feels it has greater room to manoeuvre.


The Sino-Pakistan nuclear relationship has been the single most important factor in wrecking the foundations of the nuclear non-proliferation regime. After all, it was because of China’s nuclear program that India initiated its own nuclear program, and Sino-Pakistan nuclear and missile duopoly in the 1990s forced India to go overtly nuclear in 1998. China’s latest decision to export nuclear power plants to Pakistan and US acquiescence is another reminder why the NPT remains a paper tiger.

By. Harsh pant

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  • Anonymous on May 08 2010 said:
    I caution every one reading an article penned by an Indian about pakistan to swallow with a dollop of salt. Just as one would handicap a article by a Turk on Greece or Armenia, Indians are always eager to one up their neighbors.As far as international nuclear regime is concerned, it is plain that India, Pakistan and Israel have to be accounted for in some fashion. Also since the stated Obama strategy for terror is to nurture a strong secularizing and democratizing Pakistan to stabilize South Central Asia, it is in US interest to see that Pakistan quickly overcomes its energy deficit and begins to prosper without relying too much on Iranian gas. A Pakistan reliant on Iranians more than US would be bad even for Indians. Just as a strong prosperous Turkish state furthers US interests in the Balkans, Caucases, Levant; an equally prosperous Pakistan will serve longterm US interests in Central Asia, Southern Asia, and Persian Gulf & Middle east regions.

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