China, responding to the pressures from Pakistan to match India’s historic civil nuclear initiative.
In deciding to sell two additional nuclear reactors to Pakistan, in violation of the current international guidelines on atomic commerce, China, if only inadvertently, has helped reveal the unenviable nuclear policy mess that the UPA government finds itself in.
Consider the irony: India worked hard for nearly a decade to get an exemption from the guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in order to expand its civil nuclear programme. With strong support from its partners the United States, Russia and France India got it done in 2008. Ending India’s atomic isolation a decade after it conducted nuclear tests and invited international condemnation was an extraordinary diplomatic achievement.
China, responding to the pressures from Pakistan to match India’s historic civil nuclear initiative, demanded that the NSG extend a similar nuclear exemption to Pakistan. When the NSG refused, China tried to block the approval of the US-India nuclear deal. It failed again.
Six years later, India has not been able to sign a single commercial contract for the import of nuclear reactors. Pakistan, in contrast, is getting ready to construct two reactors, to be supplied and financed by China. Unlike India, Pakistan has not separated its civilian and military programmes or given any non-proliferation commitments.
Whether you like it or not, you will have to marvel at China’s nuclear chutzpah. Beijing’s reactor sale to Pakistan reveals three important dimensions of China’s thinking. One, Beijing is determined to reassure Islamabad that their bilateral relationship remains “deeper than the Indian Ocean, higher than the Himalayas, and sweeter than honey”. This is not mere rhetoric. China has demonstrated, time and again, that its ties with Pakistan have a logic of their own, unencumbered by any global norms.
Second, in disregarding the international norms, Beijing is confident that the US and Western powers will impose no costs on China. The current rules of the 46-nation NSG prohibit any nuclear commerce with Pakistan, peaceful or otherwise.