China fails moral test in its deals with Pakistan
Western Indologists might dismiss an Indian's condemnation of China’s proposed sale of two nuclear reactors to Pakistan as crude nationalism. This would be delusive and, if anything, demonstrates the unconscious cultural hubris of outsiders who persist in insisting Asians are incapable of anymore than mimicking foreign categories. It is not geopolitics or nationalism that provokes criticism, but the deal itself and the mechanics of its promulgation. Together, they make a mockery of the morality that must underlie even the most pragmatic of arrangements if they are to be credible.
Though opaque by design, a recent article in the state run Xinhua rationalises China’s diplomacy by attributing international criticism of the deal to the ‘double standards’ of the ‘nuclear tycoons of the West’. Xinhua claims that the United States opened the nuclear ‘Pandora’s Box’ by concluding the 123 Agreement with India and that the agreement is identical to the Sino-Pakistani deal. This is the fault line that marks the rupture in morality because it glosses over the totally different aims and transparent processes that sanctify Indo-US negotiations.
The devil is in the detail. Charting them requires setting the context which is the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). It forbids signatories to engage in nuclear commerce with countries that did not possess nuclear weapons on a cut-off date. Though designed specifically to exclude India from nuclear trade, Indian respected this and even today, the US participates only in India’s civil nuclear program on the basis of a carefully worked out separation plan dividing nuclear installations into military and civilian. India also had to engage the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which barred nuclear trade with India, because though a non NPT state, India possesses nuclear weapons. The US initiated a process of changing established rules and succeeded when forty-four NSG countries agreed to grant a waiver.
The point is not that rules were changed, but the process and debate that engendered change. Ultimately, the NSG was unable to counter the US argument that India is reliable. After all, India’s record of not acquiring, diverting to military purposes or transferring nuclear weapons or technology illegally – even though, not having signed the NPT, India was never bound by its restrictions – is impeccable. India’s moral compass, carefully maintained ever since the 1940s when its nuclear program was initiated, secured legitimization of its de facto nuclear status internationally and on India’s own terms.
Sino-Pakistani nuclear diplomacy presents an essay in contrast both in terms of procedure and goals. Unlike the Undo-US negotiations, Sino-Pakistani negotiations are secret. There is no sign of a separation plan to ensure that material and technology is not diverted to third parties or weapons programs. Nor is there any indication of approaching the NSG for a waiver. Whereas Indians earned the right to nuclear commerce because they did the right thing, Pakistan’s nuclear diplomacy has a well-documented and abysmal record of proliferation involving not just a handful of out-of-control scientists but the state. This is not a question of who should be involved in nuclear trade, but that Pakistan has actively ignored all international conventions, abdicated all sense of responsibility, and persistently lied about its clandestine actions.
Furthermore, the absence (so far as anyone knows) of a Sino-Pakistani separation plan renders any new transfer unethical and illegal. China, as an NSG member, is barred from trading with Pakistan since it is neither a recognised nuclear weapons state nor the beneficiary of an exception sanctified by the NSG. It is thus not too far-fetched to assume that the entire deal is so shrouded in secrecy because of two factors. First, China is in breach of its own treaty obligations. Second, China intends to furnish a country, which the NSG is certain not to trust enough to grant a waiver or believe it will keep to a separation plan, even if one were negotiated.
Not only is the conduct and aims of the two sets of negotiations radically different but so are the underlying premises. India’s nuclear activity is premised on morality because though challenging international conventions, India does so openly, with procedural clarity and the ultimate goal of disarmament. This is not so with China and Pakistan, which justify the transfer of reactors under a secret 1980s treaty. Nor does the plea that the Sino-Pakistan deal is exempt from NSG rules since it was concluded before China became a signatory hold water. China’s detailed statement upon joining the NSG detailing outstanding commitments said nothing about providing Pakistan additional reactors. While Pakistan is motivated only by the yearning for sub-continental parity, it appears that China makes it up as it goes along.
In short, India, China and Pakistan want to transform the existing international order. However, only India operates within the prevailing frameworks it wishes to change and succeeds without resorting to subterfuge. This is what makes India moral and an exemplary example for the world.
* Deep Datta-Ray is a historian by training. He is based in London. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org