The Obama administration says civil nuclear cooperation between Pakistan and China must be in compliance with rules of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) if China proceeds with plans to set up two new nuclear reactors in Pakistan.
China’s decision to sell nuclear reactors to Pakistan, which has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, is proving to be a litmus test for President Barack Obama, who has championed the cause of curbing the spread of nuclear technology.
State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters on Monday that he didn’t know if this issue would be raised during Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s meetings in Beijing this week. He said US officials are talking to China “more broadly about the implications of this deal.”
“It has a lengthy history to it,” Crowley noted, adding, “But we will seek to make sure that this deal go forward, it is in compliance with the rules of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.”
China has helped Pakistan set up nuclear reactors since 1991 when China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) entered into a contract with the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) to build Chashma 1, a 325 MW nuclear power reactor. When it joined the NSG in 2004, China cited a Sino-Pakistan framework agreement that committed it to set up a second reactor, Chashma 2, for Pakistan.
That project was then considered “grandfathered” and is expected to be complete next year. CNNC and PAEC also worked out a deal to set up two separate 650 MW reactors - Chashma 3 and Chashma 4.
Analysts say the Obama administration is reluctant to press China on the matter in case Beijing responds by dropping its tentative support for sanctions on Iran.
China and Pakistan in February signed an agreement to finance construction of two reactors at Chashma in Pakistan’s Punjab province. NSG rules prohibit the sale of sensitive nuclear technology and materials to nations that have not joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and do not allow international monitoring of their nuclear activities.
Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Non-proliferation Policy Education Centre, says the sale of Chinese reactors to Pakistan would seriously undermine the NSG. “It would be a shame if this administration, which prides itself on reducing nuclear threats, should itself wink at China trading in sensitive nuclear technology to Pakistan outside of the nuclear rules,” he said.
Acknowledging that China has not violated any laws, Sokolski said, “The Chinese are, however, violating the rules set by the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which they are a member of. Under these rules, members should not export controlled nuclear goods to any state that is not a member of the NPT or that refuses to open up all of its nuclear activities and materials to international nuclear inspections.”
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, says the agreement between China and Pakistan is “deeply troubling because we have China engaging in civil nuclear trade with a country that does not meet the requirements of the NSG for such trade.” He said the Obama administration should insist at the NSG that the Chashma 3 and 4 projects be discussed and it be determined that they not be permitted.
A US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity citing the sensitive nature of the matter, said, “The discussions are underway about the issue and the United States has not reached a final conclusion.”
Asked whether the Obama administration is of the view that the sale violates commitments China made at the time it joined the NSG, the US official said, “It is something we’re obviously looking at very carefully.”
The official noted it was “important to scrupulously honor these nonproliferation commitments,” and added, “We will want to continue to engage on the question, about whether this is permitted under the understandings of the IAEA.”
The Bush administration had opposed the Chashma 3 and 4 projects.
In response to concerns raised by Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, in a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2008, Assistant Secretary of State Matthew A. Reynolds said, “The US position is that cooperation on construction of two new reactors, Chasma III and IV, would be inconsistent with the commitments China made at the time of its adherence to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) guidelines in 2004. At that time, China’s representatives detailed in a statement China’s ongoing nuclear cooperation with Pakistan that would be ‘grandfathered’ upon China’s adherence; nothing in that statement permitted construction of reactors beyond Chasma I and II.”