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Why is the US silent on China-Pakistan reactor deal?

China recently announced that it had reached an agreement with Pakistan for the construction of two new nuclear reactors there. These reactors would be built at the Chasma site already designated for Chasma III and IV. The first two reactors were built by China after a 1985 agreement with Pakistan regarding the same.

Credit: Tehran Times

Credit: Tehran Times

The setting up of two more reactors in Pakistan through China-Pak cooperation is a matter of serious concern from the Indian security perspective. It increases proliferation risks in the South Asian region as Pakistan has already been caught proliferating to North Korea and Libya not too long ago. Though the two reactors are meant for civilian purposes, the volatile situation in Pakistan and its hostile attitude and nuclear policy vis-a-vis India make it a dangerous proposition. The Belfare Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard University recently published a report that said that the Pakistani nuclear stockpile faces “the greatest threat from Islamic fundamentalists seeking nuclear weapons.” To allow such a country more access to nuclear material is suicidal.

Not so surprisingly, the Obama administration has not condemned the deal and said that it is ‘studying it’. This could be a reciprocatory gesture by the US for Chinese support on UN sanctions for Iran. US silence on the proposed reactors could also be construed as an indirect deal between the US and Pakistan via China. Pakistan has been demanding a nuclear deal from the US on the lines of the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal. The Obama administration had declined it one.

The George W. Bush administration had previously maintained that any Chinese attempts to build nuclear reactors in Pakistan would be a violation of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) and Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) guidelines. As a member, China cannot supply nuclear material to non-NPT members such as Pakistan. Any exports by China to Pakistan would also be subject to the limited-scope safeguards of the NSG. China maintains that as the deal with Pakistan was signed prior to its joining the NSG in 2004, it is not in violation of any guidelines.

The Obama administration’s non-proliferation efforts would be undermined if it allows the China-Pak deal to materialize. To hold Nuclear Security Summits and impose sanctions on Iran for pursuing a nuclear program, while turning a blind eye to Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions is hypocritical of the Obama administration. It would further convince Pakistan that the US would overlook its transgressions. Iran would have no reason to abide by UN, NPT, IAEA or NSG guidelines if it sees that the US can suspend non-proliferation priorities for short-term tactical objectives.

The international community and India should strongly condemn the China-Pak deal and take concrete steps to stop its progress. The Manmohan Singh government has not been vocal in its opposition since the Chinese announcement a few days ago. It needs to lobby the NSG members and US in particular against this deal. Otherwise it would seem that it has a guilty conscience about its nuclear deal with the US, which it has fought hard and long to achieve. Pakistan’s nuclear record and domestic situation require that its access to nuclear materials be limited; India should make sure that happens.



Manasi Kakatkar-Kulkarni

Manasi Kakatkar-Kulkarni graduated from the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy. She received her degree in International Security and Economic Policy and interned with the Arms Control Association, Washington, D.C. She is particularly interested in matters of international arms control, nuclear non-proliferation and India’s relations with its neighbors across Asia. She currently works with the US India Political Action Committee (USINPAC).