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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

China, Pakistan close to signing Nuclear Cooperation Deal

India Defence: As the Indo-US Nuclear Deal debate entered the Rajya Sabha on August 17, Beijing and Islamabad are moving towards deeper bilateral nuclear cooperation.

Latest reports from Pakistan indicate a deal on buying six 300 MW nuclear reactors from China might be finalised, when President Hu Jintao visits Pakistan at the end of this year.

Beijing accepted far more stringent conditions in its attempt to secure access to Australian uranium resources. If China is interested in long-term political outcomes in its nuclear diplomacy, India appears hobbled by a debate that is more focused on words rather on practical moves.

For, in theory, as a declared nuclear weapon state, China was under no obligation to accept the unprecedented international safeguards that Australia sought in return for supplying natural uranium ore.

At a time when major nuclear power producers are scrambling to gain control over uranium resources around the world, China had no hesitation in accepting the tough Australian conditions.

Meanwhile China and Pakistan have found a way of leveraging the Indo-US deal to expand their own long-standing military and civilian nuclear cooperation.

China has not openly opposed the Indo-US nuclear pact but expressed strong reservations on the principles that went into making the deal when it came up for discussion in the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group.

While it might not be able to stop the Indo-US nuclear deal from being implemented, China seems determined to ensure that Pakistan will not be left behind India in the civilian nuclear field.

When India and the US surprised the world with a nuclear pact on July 18, 2005, Pakistan and China had little problem seeing its central political significance. By agreeing to change the US domestic law only in favour of India, the Bush Administration was signaling that it no longer treats India and Pakistan on the same nuclear terms.

Two, by agreeing to accept India's nuclear weapons programme, the US was also highlighting a new political equivalence between New Delhi and Beijing. In response, Pakistan had demanded a similar deal on nuclear cooperation but was rebuffed by the Bush Administration.

China, on its part, put across a simple argument. If the US was willing to modify the nuclear rules in favour of India, others (read Beijing) should be free to help their own friends (read Islamabad).

From being mere talk in 2005, the idea of China selling nuclear reactors to Pakistan has gained ground since President Pervez Musharraf visited China in June this year.

Pakistan’s weapons programmes have already benefited from Chinese nuclear and missile cooperation since the 1970s. China has also supplied a civilian nuclear reactor to Pakistan and is building a second one.

China is currently prohibited from sell]ing additional reactors to Pakistan. But it might hope that the very international debate on making a nuclear exception for India, has opened up the political space for re-establishing nuclear parity between New Delhi and Islamabad.
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