China, Pak conclude secret deal on nuclear reactor

Washington: China has secretly entered into an agreement with Pakistan to construct a third nuclear reactor at Chashma in Punjab province that the Obama administration says will violate Beijing's promises under an international anti-nuclear weapons accord, a media report said.

"According to US intelligence and diplomatic officials, the secret agreement for the Chashma 3 reactor was signed in Beijing during the visit by a delegation from the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission from February 15 to 18," The Washington Free Beacon reported.

The agreement calls for the state-run China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) to construct a 1,000-megawatt power plant at Chashma, where two earlier Chinese reactors were built, the American website said.

While there was no confirmation of the news story from Pakistan or China, The Washington Free Beacon quoted unnamed State Department official, who said that such a Chinese move would be in violation of its international promise.

China, which joined NSG in 2005, agreed not to sell additional reactors to Pakistan beyond the two reactors sold earlier.

Under NSG guidelines China is not permitted to sell nuclear goods to any country that is not part of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) participating governments have discussed the issue of China's expansion of nuclear cooperation with Pakistan at the last several NSG plenary sessions," a State Department official was quoted as saying.

"We remain concerned that a transfer of new reactors at Chashma appears to extend beyond the cooperation that was 'grandfathered' in when China was approved for membership in the NSG," the official told The Washington Free Beacon, which reported that the US is expected to protest the sale at an upcoming NSG meeting in June.

According to Henry Sokolski, director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, China appears to be keeping the nuclear deal secret to avoid international opposition.

Mark Hibbs, from the Carnegie Endowment's Nuclear Policy Programme, said that there is nothing in the NSG guidelines which prevents the Chashma 3 reactor sale.

"The rub is that the NSG guidelines are voluntary understandings of governments," Hibbs told the Free Beacon.

"There is no enforcement mechanism. There is, however, a forum for dealing with information that suggests that a participating government is not upholding the guidelines," he said.

According to Hibbs when China joined the NSG in 2004, it provided the NSG a list of nuclear items which said it intended to provide to Pakistan under a longstanding bilateral agreement between the two countries.

"This list did not include additional power reactors beyond those already agreed to and under construction in 2004," he argued.

However, China has been arguing that the additional nuclear power reactors to Pakistan are allowed under its earlier contracts.