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Sino-Pak nuclear axis: Nuanced approach needed

By Rup Narayan Das
June 28, 2010 16:01 IST
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If China, inspite of the US supplying arms to Taiwan, its adversary, can calibrate a relationship of mutual inter-dependence with the US, why can't New Delhi manage its relationship with China? asks Rup Narayan Das.

It is an irony that in spite of recent India-China camaraderie and rhetoric for a win-win situation, complementarities of interests and the repeated assertion that there is enough space for the two countries to compete and cooperate, the trust-deficit between the two countries still persists. The Chinese insistence to obtain the approval of 46 member Nuclear Supplies Group meeting in New Zealand, to provide two additional reactors to Pakistan, touted as China's 'all-weather friend' and the spat that follows in the media very tellingly illustrate this.

The Chinese decision was neither sudden nor surprising. It is very evident that Beijing's largesse to ink a nuclear deal with Pakistan like the Indo-US nuclear deal is only an extension of China's strategic design and its commitment to Pakistan, which needs to be viewed in this larger perspective.

It is in the public domain that China had provided short range nuclear capable conventional weapons DF-11 or M-11 missile to Pakistan. In 1983, the US State Department had come to the conclusion that China was helping Pakistan with fissile production and in 1992 reports revealed concern regarding China's continuing activities with Pakistan's nuclear programme. In 1994, Pakistan procured approximately 5,000 ring magnets centrifuges from China. China also mentored Pakistan's' Chashma nuclear reactor in 1999 and also the Chashma II.

While Pakistan's additional acquisition of China's nuclear assistance to set up two more reactors will affect the balance of power with India, what is disturbing is the possibility of such nuclear capability falling into wrong hands, the non-state actors, and terrorists in particular. In the light of Pakistan's earlier track record of clandestine supply of nuclear technology to Libya, North Korea, and Iran, it is a matter of concern to India that such lethal technology does not fall into the hands of undesired and deleterious elements. It is of India's interest to sensitise China in particular about possible transfer of nuclear technology which may be detrimental to India's security interests and regional stability.

Given the present level of understanding and cooperation between the two countries, there is no reason why China will not be sensitive to India's concerns. Instead of fighting a losing battle of reining Pakistan, it is better to engage China. At a time when China is positioning itself to play a responsible role in international affairs and is trying to go beyond the region, there is all likelihood that there can be resonance between the two countries. It may be recalled that China had criticised India in 1998 when India went ahead with nuclear explosion and later when Pakistan followed the suit, China also criticised it. It may further be mentioned that in the Kargil conflict, China restrained from supporting Pakistan.

These facts should not be lost sight of, particularly when there is a tendency in the media to draw a menacing picture of Sino-Pak nuclear axis. There should be great degree of circumspection and every diplomatic posturing has to be calibrated thoughtfully and in a nuanced manner.

The options before India are very limited. India is not a member of the 46-member NSG. India itself had availed NSG waiver earlier. No matter, we may argue that the two cases cannot be compared. Secondly the US which apparently shares India's concern can do very little to ruffle feathers of China, excepting offering some lip service. In this scenario, acumen demands that going by India's evolving relation with China, it would imprudent to expect any intervention from the US. It is understood that the issue was discussed between India and China during the visit of President Pratibha Devising Patil's visit to China last month. Indian diplomats have been quoted as saying that China had conveyed to India that the deal was for peaceful purpose.

As the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh is scheduled to meet his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao on the margins of the meeting of G-20 in Canada to be held on July 26/27, it is likely that he will take up the issue with the Chinese premier. It may be mentioned that in the recent past the two prime ministers have been meeting at regular intervals and there is perfect chemistry between the two. It should not be forgotten that sometime back when the issue of border incursions cast its shadow on the bilateral relations between the two countries, it subsided soon after two of them discussed the issue on the margins of ASEAN meeting held in Thailand. The meetings on the margin have acquired a new dimension and should not be discounted.

The contour and contents of international relations have changed over the years, and now instead of containment, we have engagement as a tool of diplomacy. If China, inspite of the US supplying arms to Taiwan, its adversary, can calibrate a relationship of mutual inter-dependence with the US, why can't New Delhi manage its relationship with China?

Rup Narayan Das is senior fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis, New Delhi

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