China’s nuclear cooperation aims to assist Pakistan in the peaceful applications of nuclear technology, which is also the prime objective of Islamabad’s civil nuclear policy. Pakistan is struggling with an immense energy crisis. Its energy production is relatively low compared to its consumption. Currently, the country’s energy consumption is 3.8 per ton; if calculated in electricity, it is 5.25 kilowatts per hour. In this regard, China has played a significant role in combating Pakistan’s energy crisis, which is crucial for the state’s socio-economic development.
The Sino-Pakistan nuclear deal is a step taken for fulfillment of Islamabad’s energy requirement.
The cooperation began in the mid-1960s to enhance bilateral economic and strategic ties. In 1986, China and Pakistan signed a nuclear civil deal encompassing the transfer of civilian nuclear technology, including power reactors, research, and services support to Pakistan. With such support, Pakistan is successfully, safely, and securely operates six Nuclear Power Plants (NPPs), which have all been placed under the safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Under the IAEA framework, Pakistan has put in place a comprehensive infrastructure, including policy initiatives and operational, regulatory, and research authorities, that deal with nuclear energy production, nuclear safety, and radioactive materials. The nuclear authorities closely coordinate with the World Association of Nuclear Operations (WANO) and the Candu Owners Group (CoG), setting the ground for trusted collaboration between China and Pakistan for civil nuclear cooperation. China’s National Nuclear Cooperation (CNNC), along with Pakistan regulatory bodies, including the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) and Pakistan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA), is responsible for the smooth operations of NPPs installed.
Due to the nuclear deal, the Chinese nuclear power reactor known as Chasma-1 (C-1) started in the early 1990s and has been operationalized since early 2000. To stabilize the country’s energy crisis, the construction of C-2 has been on track since 2005, followed by installing four more power reactors: K-2, K-3, C-3, and C-4.
Currently, the prime sources of fulfilling the country’s energy needs are imported oil and natural gas, coal, and hydro, adversely affecting the environment and economy.
Oil and gas add around 48.5 percent, hydro contributes around 23.9 percent, and the operational NPPs accumulate around 8.1 percent share of electricity. The world views the Sino-Pakistan nuclear cooperation as violating the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) norm. Since Pakistan is not a signatory of the Non-Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT), it is prohibited from getting nuclear assistance from NSG member countries. China became a member of the NSG in 2004, whereas, as stated earlier, both states signed the nuclear cooperation agreement in 1986. Hence, Chinese commitment to nuclear assistance to Pakistan comes under the grandfather clause. Under this clause, the state abides by its nuclear commitments that had taken place before the state’s membership of NSG, which is considered validated by the concerned regime.
The international discriminatory policies towards Pakistan have left Islamabad with no option other than its reliance on China for nuclear assistance. The nuclear cooperation carried out by both Beijing and Islamabad is, thus, in accordance with NSG guidelines and under the IAEA safeguards, even though Pakistan is not a member of any export control and non-proliferation regime.
Beijing’s cooperation with Pakistan is pertinent for several factors. First, Pakistan is a partner of China in its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Second, Pakistan has signed various security agreements with the IAEA and has been enhancing its non-proliferation and export control credentials.
China, like other major powers, remains a non-proliferation proponent. It has also been integrated into the disarmament regime, as it has pursued a policy of discouraging or not advocating the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
Regarding the peaceful use of atoms, Chinese nuclear support to Pakistan has been helpful in multiple domains, including energy, medicine, and agriculture. In this regard, Chinese cooperation is not only assisting Pakistan in meeting the country’s energy crisis but could also assist in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). Nuclear energy is considered a reliable and clean energy source that can also support Islamabad in mitigating the threat of climate change. These developments in nuclear power would contribute to Pakistan’s efforts to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, as the international community and the various regulatory regimes desired.
Dr. Rahat Iqbal is currently working as an Associate Director Research at the Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS), Islamabad, Pakistan. She holds a Ph.D. Degree in International Relations from University of Peshawar, Pakistan. She can be reached at Rahatemail@example.com or can be followed on twitter@rahatiqbal4