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Chinese Reactors; NSG and US Duplicity

01 July, 2010

By Momin Iftikhar


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Facing a staggering crunch of energy shortage, the reported Pakistan China Deal for provision of two Reactors [Chasma3&4] for the Chashma Nuclear Power Plant is very reassuring. But will the deal go through has become a knotty issue; thanks to the duplicitous double standards of the USA and the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG). The matter will come under deliberation during the plenary session of the NSG being held in New Zealand under the chairmanship of Hungary during the third week of the current month. This is a moment of truth for 46 member nuclear trade regulatory body whose guidelines are voluntary and not legally binding. Following the NSG bending of rules and violation of its own charter by allowing nuclear trade with India, a non NPT signatory, how it will prevent fully safe guarded nuclear reactor’s sale to Pakistan remains a moot point.

Pakistan contracted China for construction of Chashma Nuclear Reactor [Chashma 1] in 1991, which was finished and began operating in 2000. In 2004, China joined the NSG and formalized its ongoing nuclear cooperation. A longstanding framework agreement with Pakistan committed China to provide a second reactor [Chashma2], more research reactors plus supply of all fuel in perpetuity for these units; it notified the NSG. The construction for the second reactor commenced in 2005 and is likely to finish in 2011. So far so good but it is the planned expansion of the Chashma Project by Pakistan by adding two more reactors with a power generation capacity of 650 MW [Chashma 3&4] that has raised the heckles in US and by extension in the NSG community. Pakistan had enlisted China in 2004 for the extension of the Chashma Project by addition of two reactors and being a commitment prior to China’s joining of the NSG cartel enjoys exemption from its guidelines. The Chinese position on the issue was articulated by a spokesman of its Foreign Ministry. “The cooperation is subject to safeguards and the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).It is in compliance with respective international obligations of the two countries,” said the spokesman.

US’ double standards in allowing the nuclear trade with India while the country stays outside the ambit of NPT and preventing a transparent IAEA covered Pakistani deal of a restricted nature with China has knocked the authenticity from under the US attempts to block the sale of the two Chinese reactors to Pakistan. Daryl G. Kimball , executive director of the Arms Control association , said the China – Pakistan deal “is some of the fallout of the India – US civil nuclear agreement” – which included the special exemption for nuclear trade. It is worth recollecting that even as the Indo US Deal was a Bush Administration initiative it was strongly supported by then Senators Barack Obama, Joseph R. Biden Jr and Hillary Rodham Clinton; all of whom are now pivots of the power structure in US.

US opposition to the sale of reactors to Pakistan and its pressure bearing tactics on China appear highly discriminatory. When the US made its own “NSG rule suspending deal with India” in 2008, it wouldn’t have been possible without a tacit acquiescence of the Chinese Government. As highlighted by Mark Hibbs of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; “Beijing could have blocked the NSG exemption for India but accommodated the pressure of the United States and it allies on this issue. Now, the bill is coming due as Islamabad demands equal treatment. It would be reasonable for China to expect reciprocity from the United States in the NSG, given that it was Washington that started changing the rules”.

There is a growing perception in Pakistan that it is fully entitled to a Nuclear Deal that would allow it to trade in nuclear technology on the lines of the Indo US Nuclear Deal made possible through back bending US endeavors. US diplomats beginning in 2005 held out to Pakistan a distant promise that it would be exempted from the NSG safeguards. Among heightened expectations The issue was raised at the first round of strategic dialog held in Washington on Mar 24-25 and would certainly continue to re-emerge in any Pak-US interaction even as the US response has remained non committal and evasive. US arguments that it held protracted dialog with India following the May detonation of nuclear device by India before reaching a nuclear understanding don’t hold to reason. India refused to commit to any of the bench marks demanded by the US interlocutors like signing the NPT and reaching an understanding on the FMCT, and even then was rewarded with the Indo US Deal that lifted all restrictions on nuclear trade and technology for India. In fact the Deal has helped India in speeding up its production of fissile material and capability to produce nuclear weapons. In this backdrop why US should object to the sale of IAEA covered nuclear reactors, for energy generation by Pakistan, remains an enigma to comprehend. 

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