SPECIAL REPORT | Saturday | 6 November 2010
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—China plans to supply Pakistan with a fifth nuclear energy reactor, accelerating Beijing’s commitments to its energy-starved central Asian ally, according to Pakistani government officials.
Beijing’s growing support for Pakistan, including military hardware, poses a dilemma for Barack Obama, the US president, who arrived in India on Saturday. New Delhi is also becoming more concerned about Pakistan’s close relationship with China. The supply of a fifth nuclear reactor to Pakistan comes after confirmation this year of Beijing’s agreement to build two 650MW nuclear energy reactors at Chashma, in the central part of Pakistan’s Punjab province, reported The Financial Times.
China has already built one nuclear energy reactor at Chashma and is expected to complete a second at the same site next year. The Pakistan government declined to comment further on the plans for the fifth reactor. “We have an ongoing program of cooperation for the peaceful use of nuclear energy with China,” said Ahmed Mukhtar, Pakistan’s defense minister.
Washington’s relationship with New Delhi was cemented with an agreement in 2008 to supply civil nuclear reactors, even though India has yet to ratify some of the international safeguards to prevent proliferation. The US has refused a similar civil nuclear agreement with Pakistan, citing concern over Islamabad’s past links to sharing nuclear expertise and technology with Iran, Libya and, possibly, North Korea.
Analysts said Mr. Obama was unlikely to criticize China’s supply of nuclear reactors to Pakistan publicly because Washington is probably sensitive to Islamabad’s desire for civil nuclear co-operation after the US-India civil nuclear deal. A Chinese official said in September there had been discussions between the two countries about building a 1gigawatt plant in Pakistan, in addition to the two 300MW plants that Chinese companies are expected to build at Chashma. Not only is China keen to boost its ties with Pakistan, a long-standing ally, but the new deals also indicate Chinese commercial ambitions to become a significant player in the nuclear industry.
Mark Hibbs, an expert on the nuclear industry at the Carnegie Endowment think-tank in Washington, said China could export smaller 300W reactors using technology that it controls. However, if it wanted to sell Pakistan, or any other country, 600MW or 1GW reactors, it would probably need the consent of western companies that have licensed Beijing to use key technologies. That would give those companies and their governments a certain amount of leverage, he said. Although China has been talking publicly for the past two months about its intention to build at least two more reactors in Pakistan, Chinese officials have not yet specified how they intend to get around the rules that bar the sale of nuclear technology to countries such as Pakistan that have not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
One option would be to argue that the initial agreement with Pakistan was signed in 2003, before China joined the body that regulates nuclear commerce.
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