China-Pakistan nuclear axis generates global apprehension

China’s recent commitment to supply Pakistan with two 1100MWe ACP 1000 nuclear power reactors has raised considerable apprehensions among the non-proliferation advocates. The nuclear sales are once again a blatant contravention of China’s commitment to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to refrain from further providing Pakistan’s Chasma nuclear facility with more reactors beyond Chasma1 and 2 that began commercial operation in 2000 and 2011 respectively. Construction of two additional reactors Chasma 3 and 4 are underway under Chinese supervision. Sino-Pak nuclear trade involves the weakening of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the nuclear export controls regime. China’s prolific nuclear weapons technology trade with a politically fragile and domestically volatile Pakistan lacks adequate transparency and raises concerns about a clandestine nuclear nexus between the two countries. The state of affairs are worrisome because there is a lateral linkage between China-Pakistan nuclear dealings and the possibilities of nuclear accidents, pilferages, illicit nuclear black-market and the consequent dangers of nuclear terrorism in South Asia.

Any talk on Sino-Pak nuclear trade invariably constitutes a sinister pointer towards the clandestine nuclear deals in nuclear material, dual-use technology and infrastructure that Beijing and Islamabad has had for the last five decades. China played a crucial role albeit in violation of the global non-proliferation rules in building and expanding Pakistan’s strategic programme. China offered nuclear assistance to Pakistan when the rules of the stringent export controls regime made it near impossible for Pakistan to have access to relevant nuclear technology critical for the development of its nuclear infrastructure. The Western powers refused to provide nuclear aid to Pakistan given the latter’s record of vertical and horizontal proliferation of nuclear technology. However, China clandestinely provided Pakistan 50 kilogrammes of weapons-grade uranium, nuclear blue-prints and tones of uranium hexafluoride for uranium enrichment process. China is perhaps the only NPT state that proliferated sensitive nuclear materials and technology to a non-NPT state.

Why China, both an NPT and NSG member is engaged in nuclear collaboration with Pakistan bearing a non-proliferation record has been questioned in possibly every international forum? Undoubtedly, it tarnishes China’s image from a responsible NPT member state to a methodical nuclear proliferator. What are the strategic and political motivations of China behind Sino-Pak nuclear axis? China-Pakistan nuclear cooperation deepened mainly in response to the Indo-US civil-nuclear deal of 2008. Anticipating a US-pioneered civil-nuclear deal to tilt in favour of India, in South Asia, China sought to restore the nuclear balance by transferring nuclear technology to Pakistan. However, China misses the point that to achieve the civil-nuclear deal India has proved itself as a responsible exporter and has committed to separate its civilian and military nuclear facilities, adhere to an additional protocol, continue a moratorium on nuclear testing, and agreed to work towards the conclusion of the FMCT. All these measures are aimed at reinforcing the legitimacy of international safeguards and strengthen the non-proliferation regime. Pakistan has neither made such commitments nor established a responsible nuclear record instead it has proliferated crucial nuclear technology to North Korea and Iran.

Why then China is providing nuclear technology to Pakistan which remains vulnerable to insider threats, lacks a reliable personnel reliability programme and is at “geographic crossroads for terrorism and weapons of mass destruction?” China seeks to draw nuclear parity between India-Pakistan and guarantee Islamabad’s security against a conventionally superior India. But, if Pakistan’s nuclear programme is primarily India-centric, how many bombs do Islamabad need to deter its single adversary? Alternatively, Beijing can extend a nuclear umbrella (similar to the US) to Pakistan and address the prevailing systemic problems plaguing Pakistan rather than leaving it vulnerable to frequent terrorists’ bombings. However, China refrains from doing so as this would devoid Beijing of the potential to use Pakistan as a proxy rival in conflicts against India and scuttle New Delhi’s rise in the global hierarchy.

China-Pakistan nuclear axis has brought the non-proliferation regime and its goals of disarmament to a crossroads. The destructive nuclear engagement will generate distrust and subvert the much needed India-Pakistan confidence-building-measures for regional stability. However, China can attempt to turn the situation in favour of the non-proliferation regime. It could enhance Islamabad’s nuclear security to prevent Pakistani loose nukes from falling into wrong hands. Being an NPT member, China can negotiate with Pakistan on non-proliferation matters and exact concessions like Pakistan’s support on FMCT for a civil-nuclear cooperation in return. Beijing can take initiative with India and Pakistan on the FMCT issue to halt fissile material production in South Asia and worldwide. The nuclear threat in India and Pakistan is real as has been recognized by both the nuclear powers. It is important that both India and Pakistan cooperate effectively in improving nuclear security in South Asia and worldwide.

China has demonstrated its determined position on security in the Korean Peninsula and declared that no country “should be allowed to throw a region and even the whole world into chaos for selfish gain”. It can be expected that Beijing will refrain from double-standards in preventing regional tensions in South Asia. The international community must focus its diplomatic attention to the China-Pakistan sales. They must recognize that both China cannot assist Pakistan in the long run without an NSG exemption. The global community must oppose the Sino-Pakistan nuclear sales or else it will become a precedent of ignoring nuclear non-proliferation norms for facilitating global nuclear trade.

Posted in , China, India, India-Pakistan Relations, NPT, Nuclear, Pakistan, Security

Reshmi Kazi

Dr. Reshmi Kazi is Associate Professor in the Jamia Milia Islamia (Central University). She specializes in nuclear security, nuclear non-proliferation, and nuclear disarmament. Her doctoral thesis is on “Evolution of India’s Nuclear Doctrine: A Study of Political, Economic and Technological Dimensions” from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She has written extensively on nuclear security issues and made several presentations including a paper on "Nuclear Terrorism and UN Resolution 1540: A South Asian Perspective" at the UN Headquarters, New York. Her publications include monographs on "Post Nuclear Security Summit Process: Continuing Challenges and Emerging Prospects" (2017) and "Nuclear Terrorism: The New Terror of the 21st Century" (2013). She is an alumni of National Defense University’s Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Study, Washington DC and a Visiting Fellow (Summer 2016) for the South Asia programme in the Stimson Center, Washington DC. Her aim is to research and publish on critical areas pertaining to nuclear issues that can contribute to future policy making.

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9 thoughts on “China-Pakistan nuclear axis generates global apprehension

  1. First thing, Pakistan felt betrayed when U.S. proposed civil nuclear deal with India. Because, america recognized Pakistan as key ally till world trade center attack and reversed it’s stance there after due to Pakistan’s double cross methods regarding Taliban and terrorism. They pressured U.S. to have similar deal with them but it U.S. refused. They felt threatened with this development whether India would become powerful nuclear nation in the region so did china.So, china agreed to export nuclear knowledge and uranium to make Pakistan further a dangerous state. But china ignored the consequences if Pakistan made a powerful nuclear state just to deter India a key player in the region. It’s responsibility of UN to stop china to have clandestine nuclear deals with Pakistan. But don’t think they will be successful. The day not far away when Pakistan’s nuclear arms falls in the hands of extremists and will be used against India.

  2. China – Pakistan nuclear nexus is nothing new …….. the western intelligence agencies have every minute details of the saga, starting from Dr A Q Khans theft of Uranium enrichment technology from the Dutch Lab URENCO, passing it on to China in exchange of the bomb blue print, ready to use ballistic and cruise missiles , to the Chinese reactors for Pakistan.

    If you ask the question, where do the British and the Americans stand on the issue, it will become clear that on the issues of containing India, China and the Anglo-Americans are on the same page, and Pakistan is the common factor/tool in achieving this strategic objective.

    You have to remember that Pakistan is the major non-NATO ally of the British and the Americans, with whom Pakistan enjoys long and deep all round relations, economic and military.

    And finally, don’t count on the much hyped US-India nuclear deal, which was dead on arrival, due to the number of poison pill amendments inserted into the text, specifically designed to bring India into the NPT through the back door, and rob India of its strategic sovereignty on the critical issues like future testing.

    Geopolitics has nothing to do with ethics or morality …… it is all about raw power and cold calculations ….. India’s foreign policy has remained naive for a considerable period of time, since the days of Nehru, thinking that taking moral high ground at the international fora would solve India’s security problems …….. no one will help India, unless India can help itself ……..

  3. A thought-provoking piece. I thoroughly enjoyed it. How unfortunate it is as the nuclear deal between Pakistan and China is first of all truly for civilian development projects and there is no way that it is going to create hurdles for the non-proliferation regimes or bending their rules. This in no way broke the NPT. In fact Instead of learning a lesson from Japan, Indian politicians are bent upon to destroy people by having nuclear deal. Japan Govt. has promised with its people that they will get rid of all the nuclear plants as soon as possible, after the Fukushima nuclear blast in which Thousands people were killed, where as India wanted to have them. This is precisely the point of concern there is great danger even with those who have already signed the NPT and greater danger with those who have not and yes! Selective treaties favouring one Nation for profit is dangerous and downright stupid!! India may need nuclear energy for their domestic purpose no one is disputing that but let’s keep all this in perspective is the further destabilization of the region worth it?

  4. Shiva, your observations are based on fake knowledge, Let me tell you that Pakistan is responsible nuclear state and its nukes are in safe hands. National Command Authority is institutional body which keeps strong check on nukes and nuclear developments. What you make hue and cry has no valid base. If Pakistan can make nuclear arsenals then it can protect them too. I will suggest you to go through nuclear security measures in US and UK there you will come to know the real threats. Their security measures have been failed during recently conducted trials. The personals have easily crossed the security barriers. But such kind of accident never happened in Pakistan and till now did you hear any news where non state actors have breached any nuclear security system?

  5. The detailed description of Pakistan China axis and apprehensions for India ambitions and concerns, compels the reader to read on, at the same time it puts a huge responsibility on the author to put forward the honest facts without having any biases and distorting the reality. This is where the writer has lagged at a few instances. The pro-Indian stance is too obvious but again that is quite natural when then writer herself is an Indian. India was the country which initiated the arms struggle in South Asia and provoked Pakistan to follow the Suit. International community very conveniently questions about the proliferation record of Pakistan but author forget to mention the Candu power project which was taken by the Indian government. Secondly, Pakistan has a robust command and control structure so, no question need to be raised about the nuclear terrorism and smuggling of nuclear material and weapons.

  6. It is good to have the efforts worldwide on countering proliferation but why still unsuccessful? The reason is that major powers are actually the proliferators. The very apparent cases are the Indo-US nuclear deal and Indian efforts for membership in NSG supported by the US which is a full fledge violation. Very well knowing the south Asian environment, the US initiated a nuclear deal with India leaving behind its front line ally Pakistan. What does this mean? US interested to establish strategic imbalance between the rival states. It is an obvious fact that Pakistan will go on with that country which supported where it needs. Pakistan has been refused to invite for the same cooperation although needs are there. However, Pakistan acts very responsibly with nuclear weapons. It is a time to accept that there is a dichotomy in the international power structure. The same thing which is supported by China is been accusing which is absolutely unjust.

  7. Whatever may be the issues highlighted, Nuclear weapons in a country where terrorists or their proxies are at the door if not already in the bedroom, is too grim to contemplate. The threat to the Weapons in Pakistan is from those guarding it, decades of ideological indoctrination having destroyed the ability of many to think independently. We are talking of a country where a Police Officer killed a Politician for requesting an amendment to the Blasphemy law and was garlanded too not by illiterates but educated lawyers. When people can kill others for their beliefs, should they be given a Gun ?

  8. A very biased and misleading article. If the US and NSG can make exceptions for India, then what is wrong with Pak-China nuclear nuclear cooperation? The sinister move by the western countries and amply supported by India to declare Pakistan a failed state and create doubts about its nuclear arsenal are only too well known. The present crises in Pakistan is abetted and supported, which is now emerging as the biggest exporter of state sponsored terrorism in the region. Is is not strange that there were no suicide bombings/Talibanisation in Pakistan, only a few years ago? How come suddenly the country’s population has become extremists? The Indian proxies have a big hand in that.

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