China Defies World by Building Nuclear Reactors in Pakistan

Involved in as many as six nuclear projects

As China’s sphere of influence continues to grow, so too does the country’s number of international trade agreements, the most recent of which is drawing a considerable amount of international criticism. Despite opposition from the United States and other UN members, Wang Xiatao, the Vice-Minister of the National Development and Reform Commission, recently confirmed at a Beijing Press Conference that China is involved in as many as six nuclear power projects in Pakistan, and is likely to export more reactors to the country.

This is not the first time China has helped Pakistan develop nuclear infrastructure; China built two nuclear reactors at the Chashma Nuclear Power Complex in the Province of Punjab, which became operational in 2000 and 2011, respectively. Under the new agreement, China will help construct two new reactors at the Chashma Complex, which are expected to be completed in 2016 and 2017. Two additional reactors are to be built at a new nuclear facility just 20 miles outside of Karachi, the most populous metropolitan city in the country.

nuclear reactor

The agreement has dumbfounded members of the international community, given that China and Pakistan are supposed to be diametrically opposed in their approach to the development and supply of nuclear technology. Pakistan is one of only four United Nation member states that has yet to join the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (“NPT”); while China is a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (“NSG”), a group whose guidelines are consistent with those of the NPT. The NSG seeks to contribute to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons through the implementation of guidelines for nuclear exports. One of the principle guidelines of the Group states that a member country may only authorize a transfer of nuclear technology if satisfied that the transfer would not contribute to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Given news reports that Pakistan has been developing nuclear weapons as recently as late last year, China’s position is disconcerting, if not inconsistent with the principles of the NSG.

In a recent statement, the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan expressed similar concerns: “China’s expanding civilian nuclear cooperation with Pakistan raises concerns and we urge China to be transparent regarding this cooperation.” Much of that “concern” originates from intelligence gathered as early as the mid 1990’s, which found that China was likely a “principle supplier” of Pakistan’s nuclear program. As detailed in a January 5, 2015 US Congressional Report, titled “China and Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Missiles: Policy Issues” Shirley A. Khan, a Specialist in Asian Security Affairs writes:

The Director of National Intelligence’s Report for 2011 reported that PRC entities continued to supply missile-related items to Pakistan. Though that report stressed that they were “primarily private” entities, rather than the PRC regime, “entities” could include state-owned entities or ones with official support.

China’s construction of additional nuclear reactors in Pakistan isn’t just concerning to the international community, it’s also concerning to the Pakistani public. Many fear the possibility of a nuclear disaster similar to the 2011 plant failure at the Fukushima Daiichi Plant in Japan, the worst nuclear incident since Chernobyl. And while a group of activists sued, successfully stopping construction of the Karachi plant in December of last year, a new environmental assessment, expected to be issued later this month, could once again green-light the project.

Charles Liu

The Nanfang's Senior Editor