China has safe grasp on Pakistan’s civilian nuclear power market

By Hasan Ehtisham Source:Global Times Published: 2014-2-25 15:13:01

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The Pakistani government is firmly driving ahead with work on nuclear power plant in Karachi with Chinese assistance. After the inauguration of the Karachi nuclear plants, attention is not on either Beijing or Islamabad, but on Washington, which concluded a nuclear deal with India in 2008.

Right after the official announcement of Indo-US nuclear deal in July 2005, Islamabad has frequently asked for a similar nuclear deal, one that allows it to exercise the nuclear trade with all members of the Nuclear Suppliers Groups (NSG).

But on copious occasions, US officials have stressed that Islamabad is not eligible. Pakistan has created a firm case for the transfer of civil nuclear technology from Western countries for its energy needs, but Western countries support US nuclear double standards toward the region.

The Indo-US nuclear deal is also corroboration that the US supports a nuclear India, but objects to a nuclear Pakistan.

For many analysts, Washington has undermined its ability to oppose Pakistan-China nuclear cooperation on legal grounds after the complications created by its nuclear deal with India.

As Brad Glosserman, executive director of Pacific Forum Center for Strategic and International Studies, mentioned, "We all knew at the time that a nuclear agreement such as the India-US one would have consequences for the non-proliferation regime and that's what you are seeing now."

In other words, if the agreement between the US and India had not been made, perhaps China would not have made the sale of currently planned new nuclear reactors for Pakistan.

In contrast to the Indo-US deal, the Pakistan-China agreement is only for power generation. Sino-Pakistani nuclear cooperation was determined long before China became a member of the NSG or the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

When the nuclear agreement between the US and India and the NSG exemption for India came into force without Chinese objections, China's policy was developed to support the claims for compensation by Pakistan.

The US and other NSG states may object to the Pakistan-China nuclear deal, but cannot stop China from exporting the reactors.

The international nuclear non-proliferation mafia has tried to intimidate China to retreat from nuclear cooperation with Pakistan, but since the reactors will be under the inspection of the International Atomic Energy Authority, no threats have yet been made.

China is an emerging nuclear giant. About 60 percent of the reactors under construction in the world today are in China, and Chinese industries are investing billions of dollars to make equipment for these reactors.

China is a main supplier of components for US nuclear power plants, while Britain has allowed Chinese companies to buy majority stakes in British nuclear power plants. Australia and Canada have also inked nuclear agreements with China, and the China Atomic Energy Agency is cooperating with 31 members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. So this immense scope of Chinese nuclear industry is a deterrent against any opposition on Sino-Pakistani nuclear cooperation.

When the battle was lost on legal grounds against Pakistan-China nuclear cooperation, a smear campaign was initiated saying that Pakistan has contracted with China to build untested AP1000 nuclear reactors.

In reality, China is constructing the new design before the US, which has disregarded the AP1000 and its predecessor, the AP600, for years despite Westinghouse's claims of efficiency and improved safety.

China is likely to become the first country in which new reactor designs are built and tested at full size, chief among them the AP1000.

The Chinese nuclear industry responded adeptly after Fukushima disaster. Beijing called for a comprehensive safety check and revision of safety standards for all nuclear plants in China.

China has always played the foremost role in the development of Pakistan's nuclear infrastructure and emerged as Pakistan's supporter to overcome its recent energy crisis.

Back in 2008, the Pakistan nuclear market was opened to nuclear imports, but while there has been Sino-Pakistani nuclear discourse, China is unlikely to impose tough restrictions on Pakistan. As a result, this market will most likely be monopolized by China in the future.

The author is a student of MSC in Defence and Strategic Studies, Quaid-e-Azam University.

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