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Soumitra N. Pathak asked: How far is China's nuclear commerce with Pakistan in violation of its NSG membership? What steps other NSG members have taken to check it?

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  • Kapil Patil replies: China’s civil nuclear cooperation with Pakistan is governed by the “Agreement for Co-operation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy” signed on September 15, 1986. The agreement is of indefinite time period and continues to be the basis for bilateral civil nucler cooperation, even after China formally became a member of the Nucler Suppliers Group (NSG) in 2004.

    Recently, a senior Chinese official reportedly confirmed that China is involved in as many as six nuclear power projects in Pakistan and is likely to export more reactors to that country. Presently, China is building two reactors at the Karachi (Unit 3&4) station and new sites have been identified for building additional reactors.

    China’s nuclear cooperation with Pakistan has been a cause of serious concern for several members of the NSG.

    The issue of legality of China’s nuclear cooperation with Pakistan first arose at the time of China’s decision to build Unit III and IV at the Chashma site. The general agreement for setting up Chashma III and IV was concluded in 2009. Beijing had invoked the “grandfather exception”, notwithstanding the differences with the NSG on how the “grandfather exception might apply in particular instance”, and signed an agreement with Pakistan for building Chashma Unit 3&4. The NSG could not veto China’s decision as it was unable to reach consensus on the legality/validity of the Chinese contention that the sale of these 1000 MWe reactors to Pakistan would be covered by the NSG Guidelines exceptions (Grandfather Clause).

    China’s current reactor sale to Pakistan for Karachi Unit 3&4 and other sites has raised similar concerns about the legality of such cooperation using the “grandfather clause”. However, China once again appears to have exploited the NSG’s inability to reach consensus on the legality of China’s nuclear cooperation with Pakistan. It is, therefore, imperative for the NSG to decide at the earliest on the contours of the “grandfather exception” and prevent its blatant abuse by certain countries.

    Posted on July 10, 2015