India will be keeping its fingers crossed the US decision to oppose the China-Pakistan nuclear deal will carry significant weight when the plan comes before the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) for ratification.
The US had been sending mixed signals since the deal to set up two Chinese power reactors in Pakistan was made public. With the United States needing Chinese support for sanctions against Iran, it had initially only said it was seeking clarification on the deal from China. This came on the back of Pakistan’s own demands during a strategic dialogue with the United States in pursuit of a nuclear deal like the Indo-American one.
But after India expressed concern about the deal, first privately to China and the United States and then publicly, the US toughened its opposition. China, for its part, has maintained that a reactor deal with Pakistan signed before Beijing joined the NSG was effectively the ‘grandfathering’ of the present compact and therefore means the deal needs no NSG approval.
On her most recent visit to Pakistan, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised to work with Islamabad on civilian nuclear energy cooperation. ‘It took years to do it with India,’ Clinton said. ‘But we are committed to pursuing it (for Pakistan) and trying to overcome the obstacles that might stand in the way….’
However, at a US House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing, Vann H. Van Diepen, acting Assistant Secretary of State for international security and non-proliferation, said, ‘By definition, we do not support any activity that goes against the (NSG) guidelines. Based on the facts we are aware of, it would occur to us that this sale (of reactors) would not be allowed to occur without any exemption from the NSG.’
China could disregard the NSG completely if it decides that assisting Pakistan, its all-weather ally, is worth the risk of courting international opprobrium. It might also see defying the US as part of its rise, although it would also make it harder for this rise to be described as ‘peaceful’.