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Exposed: China’s nuclear double-talk

Monday, 8 September 2008 - 4:20am IST

China’s attempts to take the moral high ground at the Vienna meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group by giving voice to nuclear non-proliferation concerns

HONG KONG: China’s attempts to take the moral high ground at the Vienna meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group by giving voice to nuclear non-proliferation concerns in the context of the Indo-US nuclear agreement have unwittingly drawn attention to its own abysmal record of nuclear proliferation over the decades.

A flurry of diplomatic activity over the last two days saw the US administration, starting from president George Bush, arm-twisting Chinese officials into giving their consent for an NSG waiver for India even though it is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). As part of this effort, US officials invoked evidence that Washington has of Beijing’s own record of nuclear proliferation, particularly in the context of Pakistan.  

In a testimony before the US-China Security Review Commission in 2001, Prof Gary Milhollin of Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control pointed out that China was “one of the leading proliferators of nuclear weapon technology”. In the early 1980s, China gave Pakistan a tested nuclear weapon design and at least some enriched uranium to fuel it. “This has to be one of the most egregious acts of nuclear proliferation in history,” Milhollin noted. 

China also helped Pakistan produce high-enriched uranium with gas centrifuges, and later helped Pakistan build the Chashma 300 MW power reactor and the clandestine Khushab reactor, which produces plutonium for nuclear weapons. 

It was also revealed that China’s Seventh Research and Design Institute, which is overseen by the China National Nuclear Corporation, supplied 50 ceramic capacitors to Pakistan’s New Labs plutonium reprocessing plant. The Institute was paid through a bank account maintained by an official at the Pakistani embassy in Beijing, according to contemporaneous accounts. 

Similarly, China revived negotiations with Iran on the construction of a nuclear graphite production facility - barely years after it assured the US in 1997 that it would not supply Iran a uranium conversion facility and would undertake no new cooperation with Iran after completion of two existing projects - a zero-power reactor and a zirconium production plant.

Also in 2001, the Central Intelligence Agency submitted evidence to Congress that Chinese firms had provided missile-related items, raw materials, and/or assistance to Pakistan, Iran, North Korea, and Libya during 2000. About the same time, the US imposed sanctions on the China Metallurgical Equipment Corporation (CMEC) for transferring missile parts and technology to Pakistan’s National Development Complex (NDC), which makes the Shaheen-series of solid propellant missiles. 

Going further back, the US had caught China exporting poison gas ingredients to Iran; in media reports confirmed that China was sending entire factories for making poison gas to Iran, including special glass-lined vessels for mixing precursor chemicals. The reported shipments also included 400 tons of chemicals useful for making nerve agents.
“China’s conduct in export control has not matched its statements about it,” Milhollin noted in 2001. 

For China, therefore, to claim the moral high ground on nuclear non-proliferation concerns only draws unflattering attention to its own pathetic record of nuclear proliferation.

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