China’s nuclear ‘gigawatt’ steps in South Asia

Source: Indian Defence Review,

On 20 September, 2010, China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC) revealed that it had entered into negotiations with Pakistan for the export of a one-gigawatt (GW) nuclear plant to the latter. China had previously constructed nuclear reactors Chashma-1 (operational in 2000) and Chashma-2 (set for completion in 2011). In April 2010, China had initiated the plans of building two additional 300 MW reactors, Chashma 3 and 4, alongside its previous projects. For now, the Sino-Pak nuclear equation seems to have reached its peak with its fresh plan of building a one-GW plant. Considering that the U.S. has been a stentorian advocate of non-proliferation, its minimal reaction to the Sino-Pak nuclear deals stands in stark contrast.

The one-GW plant deal highlights the extreme brazenness with which China continues to operate in the international arena. Considering the U.S.’s official opposition with regard to the construction of Chashma 3 and 4, the fresh plans of constructing the one-GW plan can be construed a strong message from Beijing to Washington. Stating that its agreements are in line with its international obligations and were “grandfathered” before China’s entry into NSG, China has not sought an exemption. It’s disregard for international opposition makes it evident that the rising power would continue to execute its plans without paying any heed to its ‘international image’ or reputation. The U.S’s indolence would only result in further flexing of Chinese muscles. These events resemble those of the Nazi era when the Allied Powers followed a policy of appeasement and discounted the untoward acts of Nazi Germany till its transformed into a leviathan.

The American reluctance on tackling China’s boisterous conduct has much to do with the strong economic linkage the two opponents share. China’s deep integration with the American economy has made the U.S. highly dependent on China. The recent financial crisis highlighted the precarious situation the U.S. grapples with and the importance of China in sustaining their economic stability. Underestimating the Chinese power in previous years has led to a challenging situation for Washington. For the first time, it has had to deal with a rival that is also an indispensable economic partner, further trammeling its options. However, the American passivity in dealing with the Chinese dragon would result in a bigger conundrum that would become almost impossible to tackle at its zenith.

Another challenge that is seemingly at a preliminary stage is Pakistan’s shifting allegiances. The fortifying Sino-Pak bond and Pakistan’s increasing reliance on China could wean the former away from the current US-Pak strategic alliance. The U.S’s necessity for Pakistan’s support in its war efforts in Afghanistan only benefits Pakistan, as it gains from aid and defence benisons that continue to materialise owing to it’s periodical practices of pressure tactics.

The recent disclosures of the U.S’s frustration with Pakistan’s attitude show Islamabad’s actions do not always conform to Washington’s desires and with a stronger Sino-Pak link, the degree of importance attached to the U.S may well wane.
The recent nuclear deals have serious implications for regional stability as it can easily spark off a nuclear arms race in South Asia, further threatening world peace. The glib of ‘peaceful nuclear intentions’ has for long been the initial explanation for an ensuing nuclear build-up for military employment. There are no clear indications that the current rhetoric originating from Beijing and Islamabad would turn out any different.

If Pakistan continues to stockpile more nuclear warheads, then India couldn’t be faulted for following suit, deteriorating the already menacing conditions in the South Asian region. In addition, Pakistan’s nuclear security is contentious and the fear of nuclear material ‘falling into wrong hands’ has become more prominent due to the current wave of terrorism in Pakistan. Additional nuclear facilities in the country would only increase the threat to its stockpiles, therefore resulting in a potential international scare.

Implications for India

The Indo-US nuclear deal in 2008 gave The Chinese an opportunity to strike a similar deal with Pakistan. While the Indo-US deal started on a positive note and was intended to act as ‘India’s passport to the world’, the reality on ground is diametric. The deal has failed to show any signs of commercial implementation and has exacerbated the Indo-US relations due to certain contentious issues like the nuclear liability bill.

Unfortunately, in regard to commercial realisation, India has not benefited much so far, whereas China and Pakistan have used the pretext of the Indo-US deal to justify their deals and profited from them. Pakistan’s increasing nuclear stockpile and China’s assertiveness in the subcontinent should not be seen through a laissez faire lens and it is time India gears up its diplomatic strength to make arrangements to secure its national interests.

The U.S. and India need to foster their relations to a much higher degree in order to counter the rising China and an unstable Pakistan. Any delay in achieving a lucrative equation between Delhi and Washington would only harm the interests of both parties. The energy of the upcoming Obama visit should be directed towards ironing out differences, adjusting strategic postures and securing a stronger bond, keeping in mind its long term benefits. India’s inactivity at this hour will strengthen the perception of India being a ‘door mat’ in the international arena.

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