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Home Articles Flashpoints China, Pakistan, and Nuclear Non-Proliferation

China, Pakistan, and Nuclear Non-Proliferation

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China, Pakistan, and Nuclear Non-Proliferation


Recent evidence regarding China’s involvement in Pakistan’s nuclear
program should provoke international scrutiny.

By Rohan Joshi
February 16, 2015

China’s confirmation that it is involved in at least six nuclear power
projects in Pakistan underscores long-standing concerns over both the
manner in which both China and Pakistan have gone about engaging in
nuclear commerce and the lack of transparency around China-Pakistan
nuclear cooperation in general. The guidelines of the Nuclear
Suppliers Group (NSG), a 48-nation body that regulates the export of
civilian nuclear technology, prohibit the export of such technology to
states, like Pakistan, that have not adopted full-scope International
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. Yet over the last decade,
China has accelerated nuclear commerce with Pakistan while contending
that its actions are in compliance with NSG guidelines, an argument
that is not entirely convincing.

Today, China is not only a violator of global nuclear
non-proliferation norms, but also presents the most convincing
evidence of the non-proliferation regime’s ineffectiveness. The
pattern of its behavior on the nuclear front as it relates to Pakistan
goes well beyond the scope of what may be construed as the state’s
legitimate ambition to be a leader in the supply of civilian nuclear

Some writers blame the 2005 U.S.-India nuclear agreement as having
been a catalyst to China-Pakistan nuclear cooperation. But this is a
false proposition, since China’s nuclear relationship with Pakistan,
both military and civilian, precedes the U.S.-India nuclear deal by
decades. Moreover, while the U.S.-India agreement was aimed at
bringing India into the mainstream of nuclear commerce and global
nonproliferation efforts, the China-Pakistan relationship is designed
to operate effectively outside of the mainstream.

As Ashley Tellis, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace noted in 2010, “…the Bush administration spent
considerable energy from October 2005 until the final extraordinary
plenary in September 2008—consulting with its NSG partners during
eight meetings over four years…to finally secure the special waiver
for India that exempted it from the constraining condition of
full-scope safeguards.  The current Sino-Pakistani nuclear transaction
could not be more different.”

Pakistan’s own interest in nuclear technology dates back to the 1960s.
In March 1965, Pakistan’s then-Foreign Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto
declared in an interview with the Manchester Guardian that if India
were to produce a nuclear weapon, Pakistan “should have to eat grass
and get one, or build one of our own.” A few months prior to India’s
“Smiling Buddha” nuclear test in 1974, Bhutto met with top Pakistani
scientists to begin work on a Pakistani nuclear device, codenamed
Project 706. Bhutto enlisted the services of the now-infamous AQ Khan,
who stole blueprints for centrifuge technology and contact information
of vendors that sold centrifuge components from his employer, a
research laboratory in the Netherlands.

Back in Pakistan, AQ Khan began work on the development of Pakistan’s
indigenous uranium enrichment capability at a gas centrifuge facility
in Kahuta, near Rawalpindi. The first signs of Sino-Pakistani nuclear
cooperation emerged in 1977. U.S. government officials noted China’s
commitment to Pakistan to provide “fuel services” and that Chinese
technicians visited at Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP) to
familiarize themselves with the operation of the reactor. By 1978,
Khan was able to produce small quantities of enriched reactor-grade
uranium at Kahuta.

China’s assistance ultimately proved to be pivotal in Pakistan’s
pursuit of the nuclear bomb.  In 1982, according to AQ Khan, China
provided Pakistan 50 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium, enough to
make two nuclear bombs, as part of a “broad-ranging, secret nuclear
deal” between Mao Zedong and Bhutto. The following year, China
reportedly provided Pakistan the complete design for a 25 kt nuclear
bomb. A State Department memo at the time concluded that “China has
provided assistance to Pakistan’s program to develop a nuclear weapons
capability. Over the past several years, China and Pakistan have
maintained contacts in the nuclear field…[w]e now believe cooperation
has taken place in the area of fissile material production and
possibly also nuclear weapons design.”

The U.S. Atomic Energy Act (1954) requires termination of U.S. nuclear
exports if countries are determined by the president to be assisting
non-nuclear weapons states in acquiring nuclear weapons capabilities.
Although successive U.S. administrations were aware of Pakistan and
China’s clandestine nuclear cooperation, they did not sufficiently
press either China or Pakistan nor threaten to terminate nuclear
commerce with China.

China, for its part, continued to stringently deny any role in
providing assistance to the Pakistani nuclear program. At a state
dinner in Washington, D.C., Premier Zhao Ziyang declared, “We do not
advocate or encourage nuclear proliferation. We do not engage in
nuclear proliferation ourselves, nor do we help other countries
develop nuclear weapons.” But by 1985, Pakistan’s Kahuta facility, as
a result of technical assistance from China, had successfully been
able to produce the quantities of highly-enriched uranium needed to
build a nuclear bomb. For the first time since discovering Pakistan’s
nuclear ambitions and China’s illegal assistance, the U.S. government
refused to certify that Pakistan had not assembled a nuclear device in
1990, which resulted in the suspension of U.S. military and economic
aid to Pakistan per the Pressler Amendment.

U.S. pressure, however, did little to constrain Chinese assistance to
Pakistan’s nuclear program, even as China moved toward becoming a
signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). In January
1992, barely two months before it acceded to the NPT, China announced
the construction of a nuclear power plant in Pakistan. Concerns that
Chinese safeguards were not tough enough to prevent a diversion of
nuclear resources to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program resulted in
the U.S. issuing a demarche to China.

China’s appetite for proliferation remained undiminished even after it
acceded to the NPT. In 1995, it allegedly sold Pakistan 5,000 ring
magnets needed for high-speed gas centrifuges, while a U.S.
intelligence report in 1997 held that “China was the single most
important supplier of equipment and technology for weapons of mass
destruction” in the world.

China’s civil nuclear trade commitments with Pakistan have gained
considerable momentum since Pakistan’s nuclear tests in May 1998. The
China-Pakistan Power Plant Corporation’s Chashma-1 and Chashma-2 power
reactors, which were under item-specific IAEA safeguards, were held
not to be in violation of NSG guidelines as they were pre-existing
commitments and thus “grandfathered” in at the time of China’s
induction into the NSG in 2004. However, China then entered into
agreements in 2009 for the construction of two new 340 MW power plants
(Chashma-3 and Chashma-4). There have since been reports of
undertakings for the construction of additional plants in Chashma and

Some in Pakistan have argued that these commitments date back to a
1986 agreement with China on cooperation in construction and operation
of nuclear reactors for an initial period of 30 years, and thus not in
violation of NSG guidelines. This spurious argument, if accepted,
implies that China can continue to commit to any number of additional
nuclear projects in Pakistan without any repercussions. It is another
matter that the actual text of the so-called 1986 agreement remains
unreleased and shrouded in mystery, thereby preventing the
international community from validating Chinese and Pakistani

China has demonstrated remarkable consistency over four decades in
acting in ways that undermine with impunity the global
non-proliferation regime. Its nuclear deals with Pakistan – both
military and civilian – were conceived and executed in secrecy. The
recent news articles now confirm that China remains committed to a
long-term nuclear relationship with Pakistan under its own terms. This
is a pattern of behavior that is unlikely to change without the
application of sustained international pressure to bring China into
compliance with the commitments it has undertaken.


China Confirms Pakistan Nuclear Projects

Top official confirms extent of the growing Sino-Pakistan nuclear link.

By Prashanth Parameswaran
February 10, 2015


A Chinese official publicly confirmed Monday that Beijing is involved
in at least six nuclear power projects in Pakistan and is likely to
export more to the country, media reports said.

In a press conference in Beijing, Wang Xiaotao, the vice-minister of
the National Development and Reform Commission, said China “has
assisted in building six nuclear reactors in Pakistan with a total
installed capacity of 3.4 million kilowatts.”

Wang, who was unveiling plans for new guidelines for Chinese exports
in the nuclear sector, also said that Beijing was keen to provide
further exports to countries, which would presumably include Pakistan
given previous reports and trends.

The Sino-Pakistan nuclear link has been well-known even though some
specifics are often shrouded in secrecy. This is reportedly the first
time that a top official has publicly admitted to such a scale of
China’s cooperation with Pakistan.

Revelations about the growing Sino-Pakistan nuclear axis comes amid
continuing concerns expressed by some that ongoing cooperation is
occurring without the sanction of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)
which helps supervise the export of global civilian nuclear
technology. China is a member of the NSG and existing regulations
prohibit members from exporting such technology nations like Pakistan
which do not adopt full-scale safeguards.

China declared the first two reactors it already agreed to construct
for Pakistan – the Chashma-1 and Chashma 2 – at the time it joined the
Nuclear Suppliers Group in 2004, with the expectation that no new
deals would follow. But in 2010, the China National Nuclear
Cooperation announced it would export technology for two new reactors,
Chashma-3 and Chashma-4 because it argued – rather controversially –
that these projects were already grandfathered in under previous
agreements rather than being fresh proposals.

News of other deals has since followed, including a November 2013
announcement that China would help build two reactors in Karachi and a
January 2014 report about talks on three other reactors, which The
Diplomat reported on here. Pakistani officials say this is part of
broader plans to produce around 8,800 megawatts of electricity from
nuclear power by 2030 and overcome crippling power shortages that
plague the nation.

Pakistan has also previously sought to secure an exception within the
NSG which would allow it to conduct nuclear commerce freely with
suppliers. India had received one with U.S. support in 2008 and New
Delhi is now seeking membership in the NSG. Both India and Pakistan
are not members of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.