China-Pakistan Reactor Deal and Asia's Nuclear Energy Race

Publication: China Brief Volume: 10 Issue: 12
June 11, 2010 11:31 AM Age: 8 days
Category: China Brief, Home Page, Foreign Policy, Military/Security, Energy, China and the Asia-Pacific, South Asia
By: Stephen Blank

In late April, China announced the sale of two nuclear reactors to Pakistan. This deal is clearly against the guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and the spirit if not the letter of the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) [1]. Nevertheless, the United States has not and may not even register a protest to this sale in spite of its implications for regional stability. Washington is seeking Beijing's support for effective sanctions on Iran in the U.N. Security Council, which dampens the political will to take Beijing to task on other international issues [2]. Although the announcement of this deal does not come as a surprise, the sale reinforces China’s long-standing ties to Pakistan and the country's sensitive nuclear program, and it testifies to the growing strength of China’s nuclear industry through its ability and desire to export to foreign markets. As the Iran connection also demonstrates, this deal is taking place within a strategic framework that extends beyond Sino-Pakistani relations. Indeed, China’s sale of additional nuclear reactors to Pakistan is happening in the context of renewed aggressiveness by major nuclear powers to export reactors and technology abroad on a global scale and the parallel expansion of the desire by many Asian states for nuclear energy.

China has already built one reactor, the Chasma-1 in Punjab and is building a second one, Chasma-2. According to the “new” deal, China is lending Pakistan $207 million to buy two more reactors, Chasma-3 and Chasma-4 (, May 21). Beijing and Islamabad argue that these new deals do not violate the NSG guidelines because they are part of the original deal for Chasma-1 and 2 from 2004 before China joined the NSG (, May 21).

Pakistan has sought nuclear reactors from China since 2008 at least and oft-cites as Islamabad's defense the 2005 Indo-American deal where the Bush Administration prevailed upon the NSG in 2008 to grant India a waiver even though it is not a signatory to the NPT. Naturally, the Indo-U.S. deal infuriated the Musharraf regime and its successor regime headed by President Asif Ali Zardari. Pakistan claimed that it also had urgent energy needs that could only be solved by nuclear energy imports but the United States, though it recognizes those needs, fobbed Pakistan off. At the same time, however, India’s success with NSG owed much to its very good record on non-proliferation, something that cannot be said about Pakistan (, May 21).

To be sure, China has long supported Pakistan’s nuclear and military programs to check Indian power. This deal is another sign of the Middle Kingdom's growing assertiveness in international affairs. For example, about a month before the sale to Pakistan, China reportedly announced the opening of a missile plant in Iran (The Straits Times, April 30). This missile plant, taken in tandem with China's growing nuclear exports, arguably betokens an expansion in China’s support for dubious states in the proliferation context (Asia Times Online, May 22). The flap over Burma’s nuclear ambitions is further cause for concern about risks for regional instability. There is no doubt that China’s overall foreign and defense policy has become generally assertive but there is more within the context of this deal than its growing assertiveness.

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