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Nuclear Proliferation – the binding factor of China – Pakistan friendship

By-Matiar Chowdhury:

 

After Canada decided to terminate its nuclear energy cooperation with Islamabad in 1976 since Pakistan refused to meet IAEA safeguards allowing full inspection of both civil and military nuclear facilities, it did not take much time for China to reach out to Pakistan with their assistance in further developing Islamabad’s programme. By late 1970s, this strategic cooperation between the two countries was driven by economic and geostrategic factors. Although Islamabad claims, it sought assistance to build its young nuclear energy program to address the nationwide electricity shortages, however, analystssuggest that Beijing desired to cultivate Pakistan as a strategic partner in South Asia as part of its regional balance of power strategy vis-à-vis India.Since then, China has played a significant role in helping Pakistan develop its nuclear energy technology, by assisting the latter in the construction of nuclear power plants. In September 1986, China and Pakistan signed an agreement to facilitate the transfer of civil nuclear technology.Further, in 1991, China agreed to assist Pakistan with its indigenously developed Qinshan-1 nuclear power plant. Construction on Chashma Nuclear Power Plant-1 (CHASNUPP-1 or C-1) began in 1993, and the 300 MWe reactor became operational in May 2000. In 2005, Pakistan announced that it would begin constructing second 300 MWe power plant at Chashma, C-2, which went critical in 2011.Apart from collaboration in Pakistan’s civil nuclear energy, the Chinese government has strong historic links to Pakistan’s nuclear weapon and missile programs. China provided Pakistan with the material and expertise from the begining of its nuclear weapon program; from sharing the complete design of a tested nuclear weapon in the early 1980s, to the supply of weapon-grade uranium fuel and supported Pakistan in producing its own weapon-grade uranium using gas centrifuges. Further, it is also known that China supplied Pakistan with various nuclear weapon delivery systems, such as the export of the solid-fuelled, short-range DF-11 (M-11) ballistic missile in the early 1990s. This sale equipped Pakistan with a reliable nuclear capable delivery system amidst development of nuclear warhead, which it first tested in 1998.

This export was carried out by a Chinese state-owned enterprise (SOE) named, China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation (CPMIEC), which markets and sells missiles abroad on behalf of other state-owned firms. Between 1994 and 1995, a separate SOE, China Nuclear Energy Industry Corporation (CNEIC), shipped 5,000 ring magnets to Dr A.Q. Khan Research Laboratories, a facility in Pakistan which is immune to international nuclear safeguards. Ring magnets are key components that stabilize centrifuges used in uranium enrichment. The timing of the transfer was critical as Pakistan was actively developing nuclear weapons. This transfer from a subsidiary of China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), which is China’s largest nuclear energy SOE, to one of the primary research organizations working on Pakistan’s nuclear weapon program was a certain proof that the export was an intentional contribution to Islamabad’s growing nuclear weapons programme.Even after China joined the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in 2004, it indicated that it would continue to provide fuel and other services for the two reactors it had built at the Chashma facility (CHASNUPP-1 and CHASNUPP2). Then in 2010, the subsidiary of China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) – China Zhongyuan Engineering Corporation (CZEC) and PAEC agreed to build two more nuclear reactors at the Chashma site. The two new reactors, C-3 and C-4, have a net capacity of 315 MWe and have been functional since 2016 and 2017, respectively. Although China was barred by NSG convention against selling nuclear material to countries that do not have a comprehensive safeguards agreement with the IAEA, and Pakistan is one of them, it argued that these new units were agreed to by a previous bilateral agreement with Islamabad. In 2013, China and Pakistan further signed an agreement for the construction of two additional reactors in Karachi (KANUPP-2 and KANUPP-3).In 2017, China signed an agreement with Pakistan to build a fifth reactor at Chashma. The Chinese SOEs play a vital role in these projects. All four operational reactors at Chashma were constructed by CNNC subsidiary CZEC. CZEC, which had built KANUPP-2, is currently building KANUPP-3. Another CNNC subsidiary, CNEIC, exported fuel assemblies and related core components to KANUPP-2 and KANUPP-3 in 2020.Further, although missile-related transfers from SOEs to Pakistan declined after China agreed to adhere to (some) MTCR export standards, however, such exports have not ceased. In 2014, for example, Wuhan Sanjiang Import and Export Co. Ltd. shipped defense-related items to Pakistan’s National Development Complex (NDC), which develops the Shaheen series of solid-fuelled ballistic missiles. Wuhan Sanjiang is subordinate to China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC). In 2017, Wuhan Sanjiang shipped components with applications in missile transporters and launchers to an entity connected to Pakistan’s nuclear and missile work.Also, Pakistan is a beneficiary of China’s huge armed drone exports, including MTCR category I or near-category 1 systems, as well as the ability to produce them. These systems are produced by SOEs such as China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), which also highlights the problematic nature of China’s voluntary adherence to the MTCR regulations.Most recently, on September 8, 2021, PAEC and CZEC signed, ‘The Framework Agreement on Deepening Nuclear Energy Cooperation’, which would enable technology transfer for uranium mining and processing, nuclear fuel supply and setting up research reactors.In a statement to the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Valeire Lincy, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control presented an analysis of how, China’s nuclear assistance to Pakistan presents critical proliferation challenges. Firstly, it thwarts China’s NSG commitment. Secondly, it allows Pakistan to devote more of its unsafeguarded nuclear infrastructure to fissile material production for nuclear weapons. In 2020, the International Panel on Fissile Materials estimated, that Pakistan had an inventory of approximately 3,900 kilograms (kg) of weapon-grade (90 per cent enriched) highly enriched uranium (HEU), and about 410 kg of weapon-grade plutonium, which is enough to produce between 285 and 342 warheads. Thirdly, it grants Pakistan access to advanced nuclear technologies that otherwise would not be available to it, through which it could expand its unsafeguarded programme.

Matiar Chowdhury London 12th Feb 2022.)