China Determined To Ensure India-Pakistan Nuclear Balance
The perceptions of an increasingly feel good atmosphere in the relations between India and China since the Copenhagen summit of last year should not divert attention from the ground reality, which continues to be marked by the Chinese leadership’s determination to strengthen the feeling of security of Pakistan vis-à-vis India, to maintain a nuclear balance between India and Pakistan and to counter the reported plans of the Indian Army to develop a capability for a two-front war with a counter Sino-Pakistani capability to pose a two-front threat to India.
The talk in India of an increasingly feel good atmosphere has been caused by the absence of seemingly hostile rhetoric in China’s pronouncements regarding India. The warmth extended to our President, Mrs Pratibha Patil, during her recent visit to China to mark the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries and the balanced Chinese response to the restrictions sought to be imposed by India on the award of sensitive telecommunication contracts to Chinese companies. Chinese reactions to developments such as the reported approval of the Government of India to the Army’s proposal to raise two new mountain divisions, deployment of Air Force units to protect Arunachal Pradesh and the Indian debate over a possible two front doctrine have been relatively free of polemics.
This feel good atmosphere and the restrained language on both sides as contrasted with the rhetoric of last year need to be welcomed and ought to continue. At the same time, it will be unwise to let our focus move away from disturbing elements in China’s policy towards Pakistan and Islamabad’s expectations from China, which have become evident recently.
The first disturbing element is China’s continued assistance to Pakistan to expand its reprocessing capability, which will further add to its military nuclear capability. The second is its surprising decision after a four-year hesitation to respond positively to Pakistan’s repeated requests for two more nuclear power stations similar in design and capacity to Chashma I and Chashma II. Chashma I has already been commissioned. Chashma II is under construction.
The international community and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which China joined in 2004, could not object to Chashma I and II both of which were justified by China as already on-going projects when it joined the NSG and hence not subject to the ban on the supply of nuclear equipment and technologies to States which are not signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Chinese attempts initiated in 2006 to give two more nuclear power stations to Pakistan under the same 1991 contract were objected-to by the administration of Mr George Bush. The US objections were taken note-of by Beijing, which put in cold storage its proposal for giving two more nuclear power stations to Pakistan without abandoning it.
In a surprise decision earlier this year, China decided to take this proposal out of the cold storage and go ahead with it after informing the NSG—without seeking its formal approval—at the plenary meeting of the NSG in New Zealand this week.
The indications from Beijing are that the Chinese Government would go ahead with its move even if there be objections from the NSG. Whether the two additional nuclear power stations would be part of the old contract beyond the purview of the NSG or would have to be under a new contract which could be concluded only with an exemption granted by the NSG is a matter of interpretation. Beijing seems to be determined to stick to its interpretation that these are part of the old contract beyond the purview of the NSG.
Intriguing questions for Indian analysts are: What made the Chinese political leadership, which was receptive to the concerns and views of the Bush Administration on this issue, revive the proposal and go ahead with it even at the risk of misunderstanding with the Obama Administration? Was it pressure from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) not to let the balance of nuclear capabilities between India and Pakistan be upset in favour of India as a result of the Indo-US Civil nuclear co-operation agreement of 2005 and the subsequent lifting by the NSG of the restrictions on the sale of nuclear equipment and technology to India? Does the PLA view the continued maintenance of a nuclear balance between India and Pakistan as in China’s national interest?
It was Pakistan, which raised in 2006, when Gen Pervez Musharraf was in power, the question of China maintaining the balance by supplying additional nuclear power stations to Pakistan if the US refused to extend to Pakistan the same consideration as it had extended to India. Now voices are being raised in Pakistan about the importance of Pakistan persuading China to lease out a nuclear-powered submarine to Pakistan to neutralise any advantage accruing to India by its reported efforts to lease a nuclear-powered submarine from Russia. This idea has also figured in an article written by Commander Muhammad Azam Khan, a retired officer of the Pakistan Navy, under the title “Options For the Pakistan Navy” which had appeared in the summer issue of the US Naval War College Review available at http://www.usnwc.edu/getattachment/cc6209f2-7f01-4bb7-ac24-8c301c62f015/S-2—Options-for-the-Pakistan-Navy.
There is no evidence to indicate that Pakistan has formally taken up such an idea with the Chinese, but one has to closely monitor any developments having a bearing on this.
Sino-Indian atmospherics are better than they were last year, but that does not mean any significant change in Chinese perceptions and strategy relating to India and Pakistan. The improvement of relations with India has not diminished in the Chinese eyes the importance of strengthening Pakistan’s conventional and nuclear capabilities against India.
By B Raman
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai)