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China nurtures its nuclear nexus with Pakistan

Dr Rajiv Nayan is Senior Research Associate at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • April 05, 2013

    Once again, and not surprisingly, China and Pakistan have been in the news for making a mockery of the global nuclear order and also exposing its weakness. Bill Gertz, who has the reputation of breaking news on China, reported in the Free Beacon (March 22, 2013) that by cleverly using the ‘grandfather clause’ China and Pakistan have reached a formal agreement in February 2013 to construct a third nuclear reactor in Chashma. The ‘grandfather clause’ refers to the agreement to construct two nuclear reactors in Pakistan before China joined the NSG in 2004. The Free Beacon report on the 1000 MW Chashma-3 was followed by several other reports clarifying that China and Pakistan had not only signed Chashma-3 but also Chashma-4.

    To recall, on March 8, 2011, the IAEA Board of Governors endorsed a safeguards agreement for the collaboration between Pakistan-China to build Chashma-3 and Chashma-4. The agreement very clearly mentions that both the reactors will be of 340 MW. The operational Chashma-1 and Chashma-2 which are 300 MW reactors are also under IAEA safeguards. All are covered under type-66 safeguards. Interestingly, India was on the Board of Governors when the safeguards agreement for Chashma-3 and Chashma-4 was unanimously approved. As usual, the strategic and political community had not been involved in the debate.

    The Chashma deal from the very beginning was shrouded in secrecy. China and Pakistan may have signed the secret deal for Chashma-3 and Chashma-4, even possibly Chashma-5. There is still speculation whether there is a provision for additional reactors in the original Chasma agreement which allowed China and Pakistan to build the first two reactors, though the secret deal for Chashma 3 and 4 was later approved by the NSG and subsequently the safeguards agreement approved by the IAEA.

    After the Free Beacon report the Chinese government stated that “the recent cooperation between China and Pakistan does not violate the relevant norms of Nuclear Suppliers Groups.” Surprisingly, the Chinese government somewhat confirmed the Free Beacon report. If some of the reports are to be believed then only preparatory work for 340 MW Chashma-3 and Chashma-4 has been undertaken. These preparatory activities will be useful for the increased capacity of reactors.

    The safeguards agreement entered into force on April 11, 2011. Sections 8 and 9 of the agreement, listed as INFCIRC/816, dated May 17, 2011, have provisions for receiving information regarding transferred items to Pakistan from China. Section 12 prescribes: “The notification of transfers referred to in Section 8 may also be made by China.” The international community has a right to know about the precise details of the agreement.

    Some argue that China may put pressure on France and the US to accede to the Chinese view on Intellectual Property Rights (IPR). The nature of the Chashma agreement is a reflection of the secret clandestine non-transparent China-Pakistan nuclear relationship. However, the biggest challenge is the credibility of the NSG and the future of the global nuclear order. If the agreement is not for Chasma-5 but for Chashma-3 and Chashma-4 then it means that Pakistan and China have already violated the international commitment given to the IAEA.

    The 2011 IAEA safeguards agreement allows ‘the supply of nuclear material, facilities and equipment from China to Pakistan within the framework of the Co-operation Agreement’.1 The cooperation agreement is for 340 MW reactors or power plants, not for 1000 MW power stations. The March 2011 agreement is a result of the undertaking/ understanding given to the members of the NSG possibly in the 2010 Christchurch meeting or possibly before.

    If the reactor in question is Chashma-5, it raises yet another serious issue. Is the ‘grandfather clause’ going to become an alternative to the global nuclear order or at least of the global non-proliferation system? Will China continue to supply nuclear facilities and materials ignoring any existing international arrangement or regime? Isn’t this agreement throwing a challenge to the NSG members?

    Some reports suggest that for getting the approval of Chashma-3 and Chashma-4, China gave an undertaking or had an understanding with some key NSG members, which resulted in the approval in the IAEA Board of Governors. Not just China and Pakistan but also the NSG members will have to some explaining. These countries need to inform the international community whether or not China gave any such undertaking to stop building any reactor after Chashma-3 and Chashma-4.

    If China is contradicting its undertaking with construction of reactors beyond Chashma-3 and Chashma-4, then it is a clear violation of the NSG norm. The NSG members may have to come out collectively and seriously to penalize and isolate China and Pakistan. If, on the other hand, China did not give any undertaking it is then a far more serious issue. It clearly demonstrates that the NSG members are unconcerned and non-serious about the objectives of the NSG. It may herald the beginning of the end of the NSG and the global non-proliferation regime.

    It seems China’s economic clout is making the NSG members helpless and no one would like to antagonize China. Quite clearly, these members are compromising the non-proliferation objective because of the increasing profile of China. One fears that China’s rise will undermine global regimes like the nuclear and will be held hostage to the Chinese interests. The NSG members need to ask themselves whether the NSG has got its priority right.

    For the non-proliferation community it is an opportunity to turn their helplessness into effective action. Shockingly, a section of the Western non-proliferation community has been legitimizing this blatant violation of the non-proliferation system by erroneously linking it to the India-specific exemptions in the NSG guidelines. Earlier, several writers2 contradicted this false linkage with logic, facts and figures. This section of the non-proliferation community, which is basically anti-India, has no case. By dragging in India and the India-specific exemptions, they have become neo-proliferationists.

    The international community and the global non-proliferation regime are at crossroads. Pakistan, which has no separation plan and with methodical proliferation track record, in collaboration with China as well as with a section of the non-proliferation community, is set to change the rules of nonproliferation. The NSG members must take the initiative and probe the China-Pakistan deal in a transparent way. The Indian government, on the other hand, must raise the issue in the IAEA and if possible take up the issue bilaterally with China.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.