China-Pakistan Deal Raises Fears of Nuclear Proliferation

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China's plan to build two nuclear reactors in Pakistan has prompted concern about nuclear proliferation. The two nations may aim to counter mutual rival India, which signed a nuclear deal with the US last year.

A $2.4 billion nuclear reactor deal between China and Pakistan aimed at reducing Pakistan's chronic energy shortage has cast light on the decades-old strategic partnership that Chinese President Hu Jintao described as "higher than the mountains, deeper than the oceans."

The agreement, announced last week, would see the construction two 650-Megawatt nuclear reactors, and it reaffirms the longtime alliance between the two nations particularly as their shared rival India and the United States also deepen ties.

But the proposed deal reignites concerns surrounding Pakistan's history of nuclear proliferation - most notably through its former top nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan, who confessed in 2004 to leaking nuclear secrets to Libya, Iran, and North Korea.

Beijing has repeatedly dismissed such concerns. "Civilian nuclear energy cooperation between China and Pakistan is completely in line with international obligations of nonproliferation, and is completely for peaceful purposes," Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Tuesday. Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari will make his fifth official visit to China next week.

Fears of proliferation

Nonetheless, the agreement has caused concern particularly in the United States and India. Although the two signed their own landmark civilian nuclear deal in 2005, they did so after gaining an exemption by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a group of 46 member countries that oversee the export of nuclear technology.

The NSG cautions against sharing nuclear technology with countries that have a record of proliferation, as Pakistan does, or that have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Neither India nor Pakistan has signed the NPT, but India was granted a waiver after undergoing international inspections.

"The Indian example is not a precedent since India's exemption had to go through the US legislative scrutiny and the NSG exemption," wrote K Subrahmanyam in the Times of India. "Pakistan cannot compare its non-proliferation record with that of India. The exoneration of A.Q. Khan by the judiciary of charges of unauthorized nuclear trade clearly implies that Pakistani proliferation had the approval of successive governments in Islamabad."

Last month, the US State Department sought to "clarify" details of the arrangement, while iterating nations' obligations to nonproliferation.

China claims the two reactors were in the pipeline before it joined the NSG in 2004 and should thus be exempted.

What China wants

Pakistan sought a similar nuclear deal from the US in 2005, but was denied. "Pakistan and India are different countries with different needs and different histories," then-President Bush said at the time.

On Wednesday, however, US joint chiefs of staff chairman Admiral Mike Mullen sought to down play the idea that Pakistan is a loose cannon when it comes to nuclear proliferation. Unlike Iran and North Korea, he said, Pakistan makes "extraordinary efforts" to protect its arsenal. …