PLA behind Sino-Pak nuclear deal?


Prime VIP
New Delhi, June 27

Worried over the increasing engagement of the US in the Af-Pak region, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) may have compelled the leadership in Beijing to strike a civil nuclear deal with the country’s ‘all weather friend’ Pakistan that has triggered a fresh debate world-wide over Sino-Pakistan nuclear nexus.

It is quite well-known in diplomatic circles that China has not been comfortable with the domineering role Washington has been playing in South Asia, posing a challenge to Beijing’s geo-political interests in the region.

Officials here say the nuclear agreement under which China will construct two 650 MW nuclear reactors in Pakistan’s Punjab province appears to be just one more significant step Beijing has taken at the instance of the PLA to strengthen the strategic ties between the two countries and hit Washington where it hurts.

While the US has questioned the Sino-Pak nuclear deal, Washington is unlikely to go too far in opposing it since it needs both China and Pakistan for different reasons - Beijing for implementing UN sanctions against Iran and Islamabad to pursue its agenda in Afghanistan.

It is in public domain that China has been assisting Pakistan in its clandestine nuclear programme for years. However, questions have been raised about its latest deal with Pakistan since China has now become a full-fledged member of the NSG while the Sino-Pak agreement is not in line with the guidelines of the 46-member nuclear cartel.

A meeting of the NSG in New Zealand earlier this week ended with uncertainty about Chinese plans to sell nuclear reactors to Pakistan. But the group’s annual meeting revealed sharp divisions in international response to the development. China appeared hesitant to spell out its intentions in view of stringent NSG rules which prohibit the export of civil nuclear technology to countries like Pakistan that have not signed the NPT.

Several governments were highly sceptical about any further nuclear trading with Pakistan given its poor track record in the field of nuclear disarmament.

It is precisely for this reason that India has expressed concern over the deal while not publicly opposing it. Indian officials, accompanying Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his trip to Toronto for the G-20 Summit, are believed to have taken up the Sino-Pak agreement with their counterparts from some of the important nations attending the summit.

Key members of the European Union (EU) are also not enthused over the China-Pakistan deal. “The EU has no problem with peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Whatever arrangements are to made have to be within the purview of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA),’’ according to Catherine Ashton, EU’s High Representative for foreign affairs, who was in New Delhi for talks with Indian leaders.

But many European countries and those vehemently opposed to nuclear proliferation are now blaming India and the US for furthering the Sino-Pak nuclear cooperation. A Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, wondered how anyone could stop civil nuclear cooperation between China and Pakistan after the US bulldozed all NSG members to secure a nuclear waiver for India in September 2008 for undertaking nuclear commerce. “There can’t be different yardsticks for different countries,’’ he said, suggesting that the NSG might not be able to do much in the matter.