China, the U.S. and Nuclear Proliferation in South Asia

Commentary | July 20, 2010

This is an Indian view of nuclear relations between India, the U.S., China and Pakistan. We welcome your comments, which you can submit below.

Writing in the India daily The Telegraph, Kanwal Sibal, a former foreign secretary of India and a member of EWI's Board of Directors, urges the United States to oppose China-Pakistan nuclear cooperation.

Sibal suggests that the China's recent decision to sell two nuclear power reactors to Pakistan threatens nuclear non-proliferation agreements. "When [China] joined the non-proliferation treaty in 1992, it subjected itself to the treaty’s discipline of abjuring any nuclear cooperation with a non-NPT State like Pakistan," he writes, adding: "Further cooperation by China with Pakistan would be in violation of the non-proliferation obligations that China has voluntarily accepted."

Sibal sees China’s nuclear cooperation with Pakistan as "a deeply hostile act towards India," writing, "China’s political objective was to strategically neutralize India in its own region by propping up Pakistan with nuclear capacity so that the latter could pursue its confrontationist policies without fear of military reprisals by a conventionally superior India."

Further, Sibal takes issue with suggestions that the China-Pakistan deal is a justifiable reaction to India-U.S. cooperation on civilian nuclear technology. "China and Pakistan are giving currency to the canard that the Indo-US deal will enable India to increase its weapons production rate, promote an arms race in the subcontinent, and increase the chances of a nuclear conflict between two long-term adversaries," he writes. "It is instructive that China should use the security argument to justify the deal with Pakistan, for it implies that China sees it not as a ‘civilian’ initiative but as a military one. China wants to build up its protégé Pakistan against any strengthening of India perceived as U.S.’s new protégé."

Sibal is particularly disappointed by U.S. reactions to the deal. He continues: " For weeks, U.S. reports prepared international opinion for a tepid American response to this frontal Chinese challenge to the non-proliferation regime and the NSG. It was speculated that the U.S. and China had struck a deal under which China would support U.S.-led sanctions against Iran in the Security Council against the U.S.’s condoning of the Sino-Pakistan nuclear deal. It was also conveniently argued that the NSG guidelines were not legally binding, and that if China was bent on going ahead the U.S. could do precious little, especially at this juncture of financial dependence on China. Not surprisingly, in a travesty of facts, the blame for creating such a situation was placed on the failure of the Bush administration to secure any non-proliferation concessions from India. The anti-India U.S. non-proliferationists found a way to blame India for the Sino-Pakistan deal."

The U.S. has a special responsibility to oppose the deal, Sibal argues. "The Indo-US nuclear deal was accompanied by stringent non-proliferation conditions, some at the cost of our sovereignty and dignity," he writes. "India had to subject itself to a prolonged U.S. legislative process with all the political sensitivities of having to fend off the extra-territorial application of U.S. laws, besides having to undergo a supplicatory diplomatic exercise with NSG members to obtain their consent. If, as the Chinese argue, they and Pakistan are respecting their international obligations and the new power plants will be under IAEA safeguards, where was the need for India to be put in the wringer of a tortuous, conditions-laden process by the U.S.? Why did the US pressure others not to cooperate with India until the US cleared the way? We too could have obtained nuclear cooperation by simply agreeing to put internationally assisted reactors under IAEA safeguards. The US cannot have different standards for China/Pakistan and for us."

Click here to read Sibal's article in The Telegraph