Sam BlackZombie China-Pak Nuke Deal

The deal where China sells Pakistan two additional nuclear power reactors, while not as epically zombie-tastic as the Iranian fuel swap, does tend to ebb and flow a fair amount. James noted its most recent rise and fall in late 2008/early 2009. At the moment, it appears as though this zombie is on the verge of breaking loose.

The Financial Times claims that the deal was signed in February, but it didn’t make it into the Pakistani press until late March or the Western press until late April.  And the matter came up at the last Nuclear Suppliers Group meeting, but the Chinese didn’t feel like sharing, so many questions remain.

One of the common threads of these stories is the concept that China and Pakistan were finally freed to ink the deal because of the U.S.-India nuclear deal, which blurred the relationship between being in the NPT and having access to nuclear energy. This might be the answer to the question, why now? And with zombie deals, the timing is always important. Carnegie Endowment scholars are of two (or more?) minds on the relationship between the two bilateral deals. One the one hand, Mark Hibbs wrote in late April that

Chinese officials said last month that export of the reactors to Pakistan would be justified in consideration of political developments in South Asia, including the entry into force of the U.S.–India deal and the NSG exemption for India.

On the other hand, Ashley Tellis disagrees, and says that these claims are “not persuasive.”  Hibbs vs. Tellis is a marquee matchup for any wonk. So, in the words of that claymation referee from Celebrity Deathmatch back in the day, let’s get it on!

Ashley’s first argument is that:

Whatever China is proposing to consummate with Pakistan today in regard to reactor and other nuclear sales, thus, has a long, repetitious, and even convoluted history that bears little causal connection to the U.S.-Indian civilian nuclear initiative.” [Emphasis in original]

I won’t argue that this deal isn’t a zombie that’s been around for a long time. But again, why is it crawling out of the grave right now? Ashley describes the timing thusly:

The U.S.-Indian nuclear accord, then, cannot be held responsible for precipitating Sino-Pakistani civilian nuclear commerce—or its latest iteration. What the U.S.-Indian civilian nuclear cooperation agreement possibly contributed is a change in the psycho-political environment. This change encouraged China to test the prospects for forcing further change in the global nonproliferation system by implementing its own version of “exceptionalism” for its preferred strategic partners—in the hope that other states who acquiesced to the U.S. initiative would feel obliged to extend comparable courtesies to China.

I don’t know if there’s a meaningful distinction between “precipitating” the nuclear deal and merely changing the “psycho-political environment” in a way that “encouraged China” to move forward with the deal. The gun may have been loaded beforehand, but if the U.S.-India nuclear deal flicked off the safety, I would argue that it was a pretty big deal.

Ashley’s key message at the end of the piece is that “The United States, acting in partnership with other NSG members, can still thwart the current version of this initiative, but it will require concerted pressure on Beijing in both bilateral and multilateral fora.” He claims that the U.S. has successfully pushed back on a China-Pakistan deal before, during, and after the U.S.-India deal. If Ashley is to be proven correct in believing that the U.S-India deal hasn’t inhibited U.S. efforts to prevent a China-Pakistan deal, we’ll need evidence that the U.S. successfully pushed back against China after the deal with India was signed, and that it was a lapse in this pressure that created the political breathing room for the deal to be signed.

There’s a 16- or 17-month window during which this lapse would have to have occurred: the NSG granted the Indian waiver on September 6, 2008, the bilateral deal was finalized a month later, and the China-Pakistan deal was apparently finalized in February 2010. So here are the key questions: were there attempts by China to do a nuclear deal with Pakistan during this time frame that were abandoned under U.S. pressure? Was this pressure lifted prior to February 2010? If so, then Ashley may be right that the U.S.-India nuclear deal has had little to do with the China-Pakistan nuclear deal. If not, we’ll have to add “China-Pakistan nuclear deal” to the list of consequences of the U.S.-India deal, right after “indefinite delay to beginning FMCT negotiations.”


  1. Tariq Mufti (History)

    The “delay” in the signing of the deal was because, firstly,a debate on whether Chashma 3 & 4 should be 635MW each, or 325 MW each like Chashma 1 and 2; secondly, due to discussions on and assessments of possible local content. There was a last minute hitch on financing terms, which was sorted out in February 2010.

  2. M Ahmed (History)


    Pakistan and China signed a comprehensive civil nuclear cooperation agreement on September 15, 1986 in Beijing. The ceremony was attended by Mr. Munir Ahmad Khan, Chairman of PAEC, 1972-1991, a representative of the CNNC, the then Chinese Prime Minister Zhao Zhiyang and signed by the Pakistani foreign minister Sahibzada Yaqub Khan and his Chinese counterpart.

    This agreement opened the way for the 1989 Chashma-1 or 300 MWe CHASNUPP-1 nuclear power plant agreement and subsequent agreements for at least three more power reactors.

    In February, 1990, the French President Mitterand announced in a press conference with the Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto that France was willing to supply a 900 MW power reactor without any pre-conditions, except that like all imported power reactors, all Pakistani power reactors would be under IAEA safeguards. The new CHASHMA reactors would also be under IAEA safeguards.The French offer could not be utilized for lack of funds and political changes in Pakistan and France.

    Needless to say, Pakistan and China signed the civil cooperation deal long before China entered into the NSG or signed the NPT. Plus, compared to the Indo-US nuclear deal, the China-Pakistan cooperation in civil nuclear power is peanuts.

  3. Jon Singer (History)

    It may do well to note that Ashley Tellis (despite his beguiling name) is actually an Indian, speaks with an Indian accent and actively pushed for the India nuclear deal, so his analysis cannot be impartial and entirely predictable. As Hibbs correctly notes, the Indian deal certainly precipitated the Pakistan deal along with a host of other measures which ultimately make South Asia a more combustible and dangerous region.

    • kapil (History)

      Nope. Hiibs is slightly misplaced in linking China-Pakistan and US-India civil nuclear cooperation. China would not require any India-US deal to extend its cooperation to its strategic crony called as Pakistan for a simple reason that the Sino-Pakistan cooperation has a history o cooperation and proliferation that dates back to late 70’s. On contrary US-India cooperation is not even a decade old. the US-India deal is mere pretext for China.