The China-Pakistan Reactor Deal and Asia’s Nuclear Energy Race

Publication: China Brief Volume: 10 Issue: 12
June 11, 2010 11:31 AM Age: 8 days
Category: China Brief, Home Page, Foreign Policy, Military/Security, Energy, China and the Asia-Pacific, South Asia
By: Stephen Blank

In
late April, China announced the sale of two nuclear reactors to
Pakistan. This deal is clearly against the guidelines of the Nuclear
Suppliers Group (NSG) and the spirit if not the letter of the
Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) [1]. Nevertheless, the United States has
not and may not even register a protest to this sale in spite of its
implications for regional stability. Washington is seeking Beijing’s
support for effective sanctions on Iran in the U.N. Security Council,
which dampens the political will to take Beijing to task on other
international issues [2]. Although the announcement of this deal does
not come as a surprise, the sale reinforces China’s long-standing ties
to Pakistan and the country’s sensitive nuclear program, and it
testifies to the growing strength of China’s nuclear industry through
its ability and desire to export to foreign markets. As the Iran
connection also demonstrates, this deal is taking place within a
strategic framework that extends beyond Sino-Pakistani relations.
Indeed, China’s sale of additional nuclear reactors to Pakistan is
happening in the context of renewed aggressiveness by major nuclear
powers to export reactors and technology abroad on a global scale and
the parallel expansion of the desire by many Asian states for nuclear
energy.

China has already built one reactor, the Chasma-1 in
Punjab and is building a second one, Chasma-2. According to the “new”
deal, China is lending Pakistan $207 million to buy two more reactors,
Chasma-3 and Chasma-4 (Cnsnews.com, May 21). Beijing and Islamabad
argue that these new deals do not violate the NSG guidelines because
they are part of the original deal for Chasma-1 and 2 from 2004 before
China joined the NSG (Cnsnews.com, May 21).

Pakistan has sought
nuclear reactors from China since 2008 at least and oft-cites as
Islamabad’s defense the 2005 Indo-American deal where the Bush
Administration prevailed upon the NSG in 2008 to grant India a waiver
even though it is not a signatory to the NPT. Naturally, the Indo-U.S.
deal infuriated the Musharraf regime and its successor regime headed by
President Asif Ali Zardari. Pakistan claimed that it also had urgent
energy needs that could only be solved by nuclear energy imports but
the United States, though it recognizes those needs, fobbed Pakistan
off. At the same time, however, India’s success with NSG owed much to
its very good record on non-proliferation, something that cannot be
said about Pakistan (Cnsnews.com, May 21).

To be sure, China has
long supported Pakistan’s nuclear and military programs to check Indian
power. This deal is another sign of the Middle Kingdom’s growing
assertiveness in international affairs. For example, about a month
before the sale to Pakistan, China reportedly announced the opening of
a missile plant in Iran (The Straits Times, April 30). This missile
plant, taken in tandem with China’s growing nuclear exports, arguably
betokens an expansion in China’s support for dubious states in the
proliferation context (Asia Times Online, May 22). The flap over
Burma’s nuclear ambitions is further cause for concern about risks for
regional instability. There is no doubt that China’s overall foreign
and defense policy has become generally assertive but there is more
within the context of this deal than its growing assertiveness.

Nonetheless,
China’s assertiveness on these issues is palpable. China plays in the
nuclear export arena as both an importer and exporter. It has imported
reactors and enrichment plants from the United States, France and
Russia (China Daily, June 9, 2008). It currently seeks to import the
newest fourth generation reactors for commercial use (China Daily
Online, May 19). Yet in 2008 after years of frustration it coordinated
a state policy to develop nuclear power independently and it now
intends to compete with other exporters (e.g. South Korea) (Xinhua News
Agency, February 18). Thus, China has recently opened up discussions
with Turkey and Arab states about selling Istanbul nuclear reactors and
technology ostensibly for peaceful use (Xinhua News Agency, January 7;
China Daily Online, May 12). Finally, although China never misses
opportunities to proclaim its devotion to the cause of nuclear
nonproliferation, it has in fact, been a major proliferator of missile
technology to Iran, among others [3].

At the same time, China’s
import and export activities reflect the growing global demand for
nuclear power. The surge in demand for nuclear energy has several
causes. Given the “oil shock” of the previous decade, even though
prices have fallen 40-50 percent from their high in 2008, many states
who lack hydrocarbon resources are searching for what they believe is a
more stable, reliable, and domestically based source of energy in the
face of expected recoveries of their domestic demand for energy.
Another driver of demand for nuclear energy is the growing concern for
the dangers of climate change brought on by profligate hydrocarbon use.
Allegedly, nuclear energy—safely and properly used—represents less of a
risk to the environment. China’s deal with Pakistan must also be viewed
in the context of this heightened competition to export nuclear
technology and the parallel-expansion in demand for it.

The most
recent precedent of a nuclear energy deal is the U.S.-India nuclear
deal whereby the United States will provide India with civilian nuclear
energy and for which Washington got a waiver in the NSG. At the time,
it aroused much controversy precisely for the reason that it violated
NSG guidelines and the spirit of the Nonproliferation Treaty [4].
However, since then there has been a veritable explosion of competition
among Asian and European providers (including the United States) to
sell nuclear technology abroad, not least to India. South Korea’s
shocking victory over France in the competition to sell the UAE has had
major effects abroad in this context. South Korea clearly aims to be a
major nuclear power exporter. Is firms like Korea Electric Power co.
(KEPCO) are active in India, China, Jordan, and Turkey [5]. South Korea
aims to capture 20 percent of the global market by 2030 and export 80
nuclear reactors [6]. South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak has publicly
expressed his belief that this deal with the UAE will facilitate other
exports abroad (The Korea Times, January 13).

Yet South Korea’s stunning example has not been lost on its competitors, Japan and China. For instance, in Japan,

A
new company should be formed later this year to support Japanese
exports of nuclear power technology and knowledge. The Ministry of
Economy Trade and Industry (Meti) has agreed to set up the firm with
involvement from utilities the Tokyo, Chubu and Kansai electric power
companies as well as with reactor vendors Toshiba, Hitachi and
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The Innovation Network of Japan – a joint
venture of government and industry – may also join. The move is seen as
a reaction to South Korea’s success in exporting to the United Arab
Emirates and directed towards winning new nuclear contracts with the
emerging nuclear countries of South-East Asia [7].

Not to be
undone, Japan is now considering relaxing its restrictions on the
export of nuclear technology, specifically to India (part of the larger
dawning Indo-Japanese partnership due to the rise of China). These
discussions reflect the forces driving the nuclear export and import in
Asia. Since getting its waiver from the NSG India has concluded civil
nuclear deals with the United States, France, Russia, and Kazakhstan. 
India clearly wants to cement ties with Japan in this and other
domains, and Japan, likewise, wants stronger ties with India and not to
be left out of one of the biggest nuclear markets in the world [8].
More recently, the two states agreed to form a working group to prepare
the way for a reactor sale devoted strictly to peaceful purposes (Asahi
Shimbun, May 3). Clearly, the pressure from South Korea is prompting
Japan to gear up and compete in the exploding Asian market with its
spiraling demand for electricity and all forms of power.

South
Korea and Japan are hardly the only rivals in this field. France and
the United States are long-standing purveyors of peaceful nuclear
technology. Russia, since 2006 has been competing on a global scale for
uranium sources and to see nuclear reactors across the globe. Moscow’s
efforts in this field merit a separate analysis but it is a vigorous
rival for these other Asian and Western exporters.

Therefore,
China’s recent nuclear exports to Pakistan and the future of its
nuclear exports in general need to be examined these three contexts.
The first context is that of the overall growth of the assertiveness of
China’s diplomacy in general and efforts to use nuclear power and
military instruments like missiles as sources of influence abroad. In
the case of exports to Pakistan, a second context is the long-standing
geopolitical rivalry among India, China and Pakistan in which China’s
“all-weather” friendship with Pakistan has been a deliberate and
conscious Chinese strategy to inhibit the growth of Indian power.
Finally, and third we must keep in mind that China is not only an
exporter of nuclear energy, it also is a consumer of that energy and so
it will be a key market for other exports like Russia, the United
States, France, South Korea, and Japan. As an importer, it obviously
will welcome the rivalry of exporters who wish to sell to it so that it
can obtain more favorable terms. However, as an exporter of nuclear
energy and a power that wants to export more of it for both economic
and political gain, it cannot afford to let either its rivals outpace
it in Asia or in other areas that China deems as essential to the
pursuit of its larger strategic goals.

[The views expressed here do not represent those of the U.S. Army, Defense Department, or the U.S. Government.]