China’s nuclear brazenness

Power is when you can break the rules with impunity

Why is China literally giving away two nuclear reactors to Pakistan now?

As this blog has long argued the new reactors do not matter much to India from a security perspective. K Subrahmanyam supported this contention in a recent op-ed in the Indian Express.

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?

3 thoughts on “China’s nuclear brazenness”

  1. “More than equating Pakistan to India, China is signaling that it is the United States’ equal. ”

    this statement sums up everything!!!!!!!

  2. Should the NSG indeed be ‘destroyed’, it would also serve to lessen Delhi’s gratitude towards Washington for having shoved the NSG door open for us in the first place.

    But the odds that the NSG will melt away are small, admittedly.

    The NSG and its pipsquaks (NZ, Denmark etc) can and will holler loudly should India deign to show them their place in the grand scheme of things, IMHO.

    BTW, I disagree with your tweet saying, effectively, ‘why should we care if PRC builds rail and road links through PoK, let us build one to Ho Chi Minh city’. We should care because PoK-NA are legally our land under Pak’s illegal occupation (PVNR’s parliament resolution says so). We should always build links with ASEAN independently, of course. The trans-Asian highway is going via Bangladesh to India I hear. That puts paid to Naga and Bangladeshi intransigence on transit rights for our goods to our states only.

    Again, my 2 cents.

  3. I assume that China will continue its policy of polite verbal deference to the US, quietly expanding its influence when the US doesn’t strongly object, and implicitly but not explicitly claiming to be the equal of the US in dealing with third countries. That’s the way diplomacy goes.

    As China gets stronger, relative to the US, what will happen when the US strongly objects becomes an interesting question.

    It is clearly in China’s interest to persuade India that China is the equal of the US, and India should defer to China. It is clearly not in th interest of China to convince the US that they think they’re the equal of the US, because the US might react by trying to pull clearly ahead of them. Which goal will dominate is going to be hard to predict for the next five years, and is likely to vary from one situation to the next.


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