Discomforting deal

The Indian government is understandably perturbed at the prospect of a nuclear deal between Pakistan and China. The possibility of such an agreement has been bandied about ever since India and the Unites States concluded their agreement on civilian nuclear cooperation. Critics of the deal, both in India and abroad, had highlighted the dangers of some such move on the part of Beijing and Islamabad. These fears appeared to come true when the Pakistani President, Asif Ali Zardari, visited China in October 2008. During this visit, the Pakistani delegation managed to secure an agreement for the construction of two new nuclear-power plants in Pakistan by the Chinese. The request was packaged as an essential requirement for bridging the serious shortfalls in power generation in Pakistan. Even at that point, however, the Pakistani foreign minister suggested that such an arrangement would help restore the balance with India, which had been tilted in favour of India by the Indo-US nuclear deal.
Mr Zardari’s pitch to the Chinese came at a time when Pakistan’s efforts to secure from the Americans an agreement similar to India had run aground. The Bush administration made it clear that India and Pakistan had had very different nuclear histories; given Pakistan’s record of involvement in shadowy nuclear transfers the question of an agreement simply did not arise. But to Pakistan’s chagrin, the arrangement with China did not immediately take off. Beijing was aware that given Washington’s stance securing the approval of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) for the deal with Pakistan would be rather difficult. Hence, the matter was placed on the backburner.
In recent months, Pakistan yet again focused its efforts on securing an agreement from the US. Buoyed by the increasing importance attached to Pakistan for finding a way out of the Afghanistan war, Islamabad sought to make a strong bid for a nuclear deal during the recent strategic dialogue with Washington. They drew a blank. Consequently, the focus was shifted yet again to convincing the Chinese to deliver. The nuclear deal was high on the agenda of the Pakistan army Chief during his recent visit to China. Beijing, too, now seems more receptive to Pakistan’s requests. This seems to be in keeping with their increasing confidence (visible since the economic downturn in the West) and willingness to confront the US on a series of international issues ranging from global economy to climate change.
India’s concerns about the China-Pakistan nuclear deal stem from two sources. First, there is the history of China’s active assistance to the Pakistani nuclear, including weapons, programme — undertaken with the explicit aim of cutting India to size. Nuclear cooperation between China and Pakistan dates back to the mid-1970s, when India’s dominance in the subcontinent was clearly underlined by the 1971 war. The Chinese agreed to assist with the functioning of the nuclear reactor in Karachi built by the Canadians. China also supplied uranium hexafluoride without which the Pakistani nuclear programme would have juddered to a halt. Subsequently, they provided Pakistan with designs for a bomb, samples of weapons-grade highly enriched uranium and tritium booster, and apparently even tested a nuclear device for Pakistan in their test site at Lop Nor.
Following China’s accession to the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1992, Beijing declared that its nuclear exports would follow three criteria: the exports would only be for peaceful use; International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards would have to be accepted by the recipient; and there would be no transfers to third parties without Beijing’s consent. Nonetheless, China’s nuclear trade with Pakistan continued to generate concerns. In 1995, there were reports of the sale of 5000 specially-designed ring magnets to a non-safeguarded Pakistani nuclear laboratory. China initially denied the report; but subsequently claimed that the sale had been done by the China Nuclear Energy Corporation without informing the government, and that the rings were not magnetised in any case. In 1991, China had also supplied Pakistan with a 300 MWe nuclear reactor at Chashma. At the time of its entry into the NSG in 2004, it declared that had recently agreed to supply another 325 MWe reactor at Chashma. It is expected that the Chinese will wish to present the reactors under the latest agreement with Pakistan as part of the older commitment, and hence as not requiring a waiver from the NSG. Given the past record, New Delhi is concerned about the implications of this agreement.
The second source of discomfort is what these developments portend for Sino-Indian relations. In recent months, the relationship appeared to be recovering from a phase of intermittent tension, particularly over China’s attempt to prevent the NSG waiver to India, its strident stance on Arunachal Pradesh, and the issuing of separate Chinese visas for Kashmiris. In the past year India and China had shown their willingness and ability to work together on major international issues, particularly climate change. If China decides to brazen its way through the nuclear deal with Pakistan, India is bound to wonder whether at all China appreciates India’s legitimate interests and concerns.
And yet, New Delhi would do well at this point to avoid reading too much into these developments. For one thing, the details of the Sino-Pakistan agreement are hazy. For another, it is not fully clear just how China intends to proceed. In some ways, China’s willingness to disregard international guidelines would sit oddly with its stance on other related issues. By going along with the sanctions on Iran and by chiding North Korea for its aggressive posture, Beijing has indicated that it wants to be a responsible global power. The Indian government has quite properly avoided over-reacting to the recent developments whilst simultaneously conveying its views to Beijing. New Delhi will have to gear up for some adroit diplomacy as the curtains go up on the China-Pakistan accord.

Srinath Raghavan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi

Comments

It is quite likely that they

It is quite likely that they took the US into confidence about China-Pak deal and US agreed to look the other way. Pakistan gets what they want and US gets deniability. Indians expose their hypocrisy when objecting to something they were eagerly seeking themselves last year.

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