China may have resumed civil nuclear assistance to Pakistan

LAHORE: India has received intelligence inputs saying that China has secretly resumed assistance to Pakistan’s civilian nuclear programme, according to the Hindustan Times, which has also claimed that the report has been “corroborated by Western intelligence agencies”.

According to the report, China’s resumption of assistance is a possible follow up to the visit of Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari to Beijing on October 18. A bilateral nuclear agreement was signed during the visit. Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi later said that China had agreed to set up two atomic reactors, the Chashma-3 and Chashma-4, and the Pakistan-China Joint Atomic Commission would meet soon. The deal is expected to provide a symbolic balance to the Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement, said the Hindustan Times. “The Chashma 3 and 4 reactors have been under a cloud since China signed up to the Nuclear Suppliers Group in 2004,” said the newspaper.

Under group guidelines, no NSG member could provide nuclear assistance to a non-signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Beijing claimed to have ‘grandfathered’ the Chashma 3 and 4 reactors saying that it had the right to fulfil the contract with Pakistan because it had been signed before China’s entry into the NSG.

However, according to a senior government adviser, the US has demarched China over ‘providing Pakistan reactors’, and declined to endorse the ‘grandfather’ clause. “Beijing on its part had never given up its right to provide Pakistan the two reactors; it merely avoided angering the US for fear of sanctions,” said the report.

China may have now begun preparing the ground for a transfer in expectation that the US may be too consumed with the financial crisis and the presidential transition to take notice of any infraction of the NSG guidelines, said the newspaper.

In the past, China has defended its nuclear co-operation to Pakistan arguing that Pakistan’s nuclear arms posture was ‘defensive’ and the Indo-Pakistan nuclear standoff provided stability to the region. The Chashma reactors however are supposed be safeguarded and would not contribute to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme.

(Daily Times, Pakistan)

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