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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Reports Differ on Possible China-India Nuclear Talks

As Hu Jintao makes the first visit by a Chinese president to India in a decade, there are conflicting reports about a possible nuclear trade deal between the two nations, similar to a deal that New Delhi is seeking with the United States (see GSN, Nov. 20).

The Boston Globe reported Monday that China and India could sign an agreement during Hu’s four-day visit.

The Globe, citing two anonymous sources familiar with the pending agreement, reported that the deal enabling the exchange of nuclear technology between China and India would be announced Thursday at the conclusion of Hu’s visit.

However, the Associated Press reported today that no significant agreements are expected during Hu’s visit.

“I am visiting India to enhance friendship, increase mutual trust, strengthen cooperation and chart the future course for our relations,” Hu said in a statement.

New Delhi might, though, seek China’s backing for the U.S.-Indian civilian nuclear agreement, the AP reported (Rajesh Mahapatra, the Associated Press/phillyBurbs.com, Nov. 21).

The reported China-India deal could mark a new stage of aggressive jostling between Beijing and Washington for India’s friendship.

“The U.S. always said it wants to use India to balance China,” Sun Shihai, deputy director of the Institute for Asia Pacific Studies at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, told the Globe. “China feels it needs to engage India more (and) develop some kind of Russia-China-India cooperation” that can offset U.S. hegemony. “So there is some kind of competition happening.”

Some in New Delhi see the potential deal with China as a way to inject some balance into Indian foreign policy and tilt it away from the United States.

“Traditionally, India’s always been nonaligned and had an independent foreign policy,” an Indian official familiar with negotiations told the Globe. “Recently, India had been moving very close to the U.S., and with this deal India will become equidistant between the U.S. and China” (Jehangir Pocha/The Boston Globe, Nov. 20).

Hu is traveling to Pakistan following his trip to India, and he also expected to sign a nuclear agreement with Islamabad.

Pakistan has asked China to build as many as six nuclear reactors with at least 600 megawatt capacities although precise details of the expected agreement remain veiled, Reuters reported.

“The political intent is quite certain. The specifics are less certain, but this will be a political gesture above all,” one diplomatic observer in Beijing told Reuters.

Pakistan, a nation that like India developed nuclear weapons outside the bounds of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, has a checkered proliferation history. Former chief Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, now under house arrest in Karachi, has been accused of running a veritable nuclear Wal-Mart, selling technology to North Korea, Iran and Libya.

As the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal has moved forward, Pakistan has called for a deal of its own with the United States. Washington to date has rejected Islamabad’s requests (Reuters/Express India, Nov. 16).

“With the U.S. using India to checkmate China, China will counter by supporting Pakistan,” Kaiser Bengali, an analyst in Karachi, told the Christian Science Monitor.

Forging links through nuclear technology and trade is a new tack, however. “Using the nuclear card is a new phenomenon,” he said.

Critics caution that softening nuclear trade controls could throw the nonproliferation regime into disarray.

“This is a sign of chaos,” said Stephen Cohen of the Brookings Institution. “There is no game plan” (Sappenfield/Montero, The Christian Science Monitor, Nov. 21).
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