Power is when you can break the rules with impunity
Why is China literally giving away two nuclear reactors to Pakistan now?
If, as China claims, the reactors are safeguarded and cannot be used to produce material for nuclear weapons, then the only risks are those relating to Pakistan’s domestic stability and its nuclear facilities. These risks, we have on the authority of the US president and the Indian prime minister, are currently adequately managed. If, on the other hand, China’s claims are false—and both this blog and K Subrahmanyam are inclined towards this—then the new reactors will escalate the nuclear arms race between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Beyond the security calculus, there is a simple political reason why China is brazenly violating the commitments it made when it joined the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in 2004. It is playing a grand geopolitical game of tit-for-tat with the United States. It saw the US-India nuclear deal as a move to check its own power. It has responded by giving reactors away (literally)to Pakistan. Indeed, it could have done so by going through the due process of the NSG, as the United States did in India’s case. But tit-for-tat becomes all the more effective when you show that you can break the NSG norms and there’s nothing anyone can do about it—the Obama administration can just lump it. The sanctimonious Europeans, New Zealanders and others won’t even open their mouths (via INI Polaris) this time.
More than equating Pakistan to India, China is signaling that it is the United States’ equal. Once it is down that path, it can hardly back off. Can it?