Tuesday, September 09, 2008

China behaviour at the NSG and other matters

The record will show, that China is the last country in the world that can afford to talk about nuclear non-proliferation. The Chinese have been arguably the most irresponsible power when it comes to nuclear weapons. The US refused to share weapons secrets with the UK, or France. Russia refused weapons knowhow to China. But for its part, China gave Pakistan a nuclear weapons design and even tested the weapon made by the Pakistanis. That designed, now refined and miniaturised, is available in digitized form and has been circulated to every known rogue state in the world courtesy the Khan network.

As far as India is concerned, China couldn’t have done us more harm. As Islamabad has repeatedly emphasized, India is the only destination for Pakistani nuclear weapons.

The Chinese behaviour at the Nuclear Suppliers Group meeting in Vienna last week were characteristic. Through the whole issue of the Indo-US nuclear deal, they played a low-key role, assuring India repeatedly that they would not stand in the way of India getting an NSG go-ahead for civil nuclear cooperation. But when in the August 21-22 meeting it became clear that there would be opposition from some small but rich, white countries the Chinese sensed opportunity. Even then, their opposition was subtle, first in the form of a commentary in the official People’s Daily on September 1. See Siddharth Varadarajan’s blog for an unofficial translation.

Then, during the meeting itself, the Chinese stuck to their official line that the NSG must balance proliferation concerns and promotion of civil nuclear trade. But in the several bilateral meetings between Indian leaders and their Chinese counterparts like President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao in the past year or so, the Indians came away with the impression that the Chinese would adopt at least a neutral attitude to the Indian project.

But, according to insiders, on September 5, the Chinese started raising all manner of petty issues along with the more substantial ones raised by the so-called white knights—Austria, New Zealand, Ireland—knowing fully well that time was of the essence and delay would doom the deal.

In other words, the Chinese wanted the white knights to be the cat’s paw for their own real desire of denying India the civil nuclear deal. But they over-reached and the result has been some loss of face as India has publicly called them to task. The Prime Minister and External Affairs Minister pointedly refused to name China as one of the countries that facilitated the deal during his meetings with Yang Jiechi, the Chinese Foreign Minister in New Delhi on September 8. The National Security Adviser had very publicly expressed his “disappointment” with China on TV on Saturday 6.

For his part, the Chinese foreign minister told the Indian media on September 8

“I am surprised by these reports. Facts speak louder than words. China has always worked responsibly towards consensus both in the International Atomic Energy Agency and the NSG.”

In itself, this is a minor episode, especially since the NSG waiver did come through, but it tells us a great deal of China’s real attitude towards India which is one of seeing us as a pesky second-rung country, no matter what they may say publicly.


After defeating us in the border war of 1962, the Chinese have adopted a policy of not confronting India directly. Instead they have invested in our neighbours, principally Pakistan, to keep us in check. Given the almost primal Pakistani hostility towards India, this policy has worked very well. This has enabled Beijing to normalize ties with New Delhi and even develop important bilateral ties, even while having ensuring that India remains locked into a hostile strategic relationship with Pakistan.

China has been Pakistan’s “all weather friend” since the 1960s. The first instance of the usefulness of this friendship came when after initiating hostilities with India in 1965 Pakistan found itself floundering as India attacked across several fronts along the international border in Punjab and Rajasthan. They ran to Beijing which issued a series of ultimatums on India and even mobilized its forces for war, compelling New Delhi to accept a UN mandated ceasefire when it was on the verge of comprehensively defeating Pakistan.

In 1971, Indian diplomacy, war preparations and the deepness of the Pakistani morass in Bangladesh prevented Beijing from intervening.

During the Kargil war, too, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif rushed to Beijing for help. Only when China refused to intervene, that he called up his friend Bill Clinton and got the US to pull that hot chestnut our of the fire.

Why China can't afford to talk on non-proliferation issues

In the latest issue of Physics Today, Thomas C. Reed, a former American nuclear weapons designer and cabinet official, has told a most remarkable story . It is about how the Chinese deliberately cultivated and provided information on its nuclear weapons programme to a senior technical intelligence official of the US nuclear weapons programme. This officer Danny Stillman and his team were allowed to travel to China and visit some of the most secret Chinese nuclear weapons facilities and given access to its scientists. While Reed’s article is really about the Chinese nuclear tests between 1964-1996, what is important from our point of view are two bits of information given to Stillman.

In 1982 China’s premier Deng Xiaoping began the transfer of nuclear weapons technology to Pakistan…. Those transfers included blueprints for the ultrasimple CHIC-4 design using highly enriched uranium, first tested by China in 1966.”.

"A Pakistani derivative of CHIC-4 apparently was tested in China on May 26, 1990."

In other words, not only did China provide the design, but it actually tested a Pakistani fabricated device.

Reed’s revelations come on the heels of the reports about how Chinese weapon designs given to Pakistan have subsequently been updated and given to Libya, North Korea, Iran and perhaps other countries. According to Peter Grier “Did rogue network leak nuclear bomb design?” the Christian Science Monitor June 18, 2008,

“An infamous atomic smuggler may have had blueprints for a compact, sophisticated nuclear warhead, and that could mean that the world's proliferation problem is even worse than many experts had thought.

US officials have long declared the nuclear technology ring run by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan to be shattered. But revelations that a digitized bomb design turned up on the computer of an associate of Mr. Khan's show that US and UN investigators may not yet know everything Khan did, despite the fact that he has been under house arrest in Pakistan for years....”

“US and UN investigators have long known that the Khan network sold to Libya a nearly complete set of blueprints and instruction manuals for a relatively basic nuclear warhead of Chinese design.”

As Joby Warrick and Peter Slevin revealed in a story “Libyan Arms Designs Traced Back to China: Pakistanis Resold Chinese-Provided Plans” in Washington Post in February 2004

“Investigators have discovered that the nuclear weapons designs obtained by Libya through a Pakistani smuggling network originated in China, exposing yet another link in a chain of proliferation that stretched across the Middle East and Asia, according to government officials and arms experts.

The bomb designs and other papers turned over by Libya have yielded dramatic evidence of China's long-suspected role in transferring nuclear know-how to Pakistan in the early 1980s, they said. The Chinese designs were later resold to Libya by a Pakistani-led trading network that is now the focus of an expanding international probe, added the officials and experts, who are based in the United States and Europe."

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