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Diplomatic Duplicity: China and Nuclear Non-proliferation

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China’s application of non-proliferation controls has been the subject of intense and ongoing criticism from the West, yet it has continued to be allowed growing non-proliferation commitments.

China remains a member of multiple non-proliferation groups while continuing to either deny its involvement in the proliferation of nuclear weapons technology or pushing the envelope with transactions involving other countries that are not members of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, like Pakistan. China has had continuous involvement in the proliferation of technologies and weapons to Pakistan, with the relationship spanning over 4 decades, beginning in the mid-1970s. China recently confirmed that it is involved in at least six nuclear power projects in Pakistan, which underscore the long-standing concerns over the manner in which China goes about making relations with such nations and the lack of transparency that infuses the entire engagement. This relationship is not only a threat to surrounding counties like India, but the very security of the world. China’s continued clandestine cooperation with such nations, all while being a proponent and member of non-proliferation nuclear weapons treaties, undermines the very nature of the international institution and brings into question why the United States does not place more of a critical focus on such behavior.

The affiliation between China and Pakistan goes against numerous guidelines, most notably the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a 48-nation body that regulates the export of civilian nuclear technology and prohibits the export of such technologies to countries like Pakistan who have not adopted full-scope international atomic energy agency (IAEA) safeguards. Regardless, China has accelerated nuclear commerce with Pakistan while insisting that its actions are in compliance with NSG guidelines. As such, China not only stands in violation of nuclear non-proliferation, but also puts forth the most convincing evidence of the ineffectiveness of the non-proliferation treaty rules and regulations. If one of the founding signatories is so willing to go against the stipulations with little to no consequence, then how relevant is this institution?

China’s involvement with Pakistan’s nuclear program is aimed to operate effectively outside of mainstream scrutiny, as opposed to the United States and Indian Nuclear Agreement of 2005, which was designed to bring India into mainstream nuclear commerce and global nonproliferation regulations. The United States has spent considerable energy for years consulting with its NSG partners to secure a special waiver for India, which exempted it from constraining conditions of full-scope safeguards, whereas the Sino-Pakistani nuclear engagement is very much a mystery to the international community. Ultimately, China’s involvement was pivotal in Pakistan’s pursuit of the nuclear bomb, with China providing Pakistan 50 kilograms of weapons grade uranium in 1982 and then providing the following year the complete design for a 25 kiloton nuclear bomb. Previous to this, the first official signs of a Sino-Pakistani nuclear cooperation were in 1977, when the U.S. government noted China’s commitment to Pakistan in providing fuel services and Chinese technicians to the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant. The following year small quantities of enriched reactor grade uranium was produced there.

The question remains: why does the United States choose to not act more against these violations? The U.S. Atomic Energy Act requires the termination of U.S. nuclear exports if the countries involved are determined to be assisting non-nuclear weapons states in the acquiring of nuclear weapon capability. Despite the fact that multiple United States administrations have been aware of Pakistan and China’s clandestine nuclear cooperation, they did not significantly press either China or Pakistan about this cooperation, nor did they threaten to terminate nuclear commerce with China.

Despite the adoption in 2002 of what many considered comprehensive export controls, Chinese entities continue their Pakistani engagement. The U.S. at this point is frustrated by the lack of action by the Chinese administration to clamp down on this proliferation by state and private entities and has begun to attempt to constrain China’s companies by cutting them off from the U.S. economy and international financial markets. In the past few years, the role of state-owned enterprises involved in proliferation has appeared to decline, likely due to the desire to be removed from U.S. sanction lists, yet there remain three important categories of proliferation that continue prominently: nuclear transfers to Pakistan; a list of serial proliferations involving infamous individuals like Karl Lee; and the final category relates to individual transactions or group transactions that are exported to prohibited end uses. China seems unwilling or unable to take any definitive action against these three categories of proliferation, despite releasing a joint statement with France, Russia, The UK, and the US this year when it stated that …”we rededicate ourselves to the NPT and its three mutually reinforcing pillars – disarmament, nonproliferation, and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy – we also pledge our support for efforts to ensure the Review Conference builds on the success of the 2010 Action Plan and encourages further cooperation on steps to strengthen all three pillars of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).”

Even when the United States has attempted to place diplomatic pressure, like in 1990 when the U.S. government refused to certify that Pakistan had not assembled a nuclear device, thus resulting in the suspension of military and economic aid from the United States (in accord with the Pressler Amendment requiring the President to certify every year that Pakistan does not have nuclear weapons), this has done little to impact constant Chinese assistance to Pakistan. Incredulously, at the same time China began its move toward becoming a signatory to the NPT in January 1992, it also announced that it was constructing a nuclear power plant in Pakistan. This kind of diplomatic duplicity has always gone unpunished.

China’s involvement has had serious implications to other nations like India. The waters for India became muddled with the creation of the NPT. The NPT required that only internationally-traded nuclear material and technology be safeguarded. This was something that India was willing to accept, although they declined to disarm and join the NPT as a non-weapon state. However, in 1992, as a means to induce expanded participation in the NPT, the Nuclear Suppliers Group decided as a matter of policy to prohibit all nuclear commerce with nations that had not agreed upon full-scope safeguards. What this meant to India was that it became exiled in the world of nuclear commerce. As a result, India has always sought to intensify its self-reliance and continue to maintain a nuclear deterrence presence, while simultaneously expanding its pursuit of peaceful nuclear energy.

China’s clear and steadfast involvement with the proliferation of nuclear technology and weapons to nations like Pakistan has been in stark defiance of the non-proliferation treaties that it is willingly a part of. These actions are not only dangerous to Pakistan’s neighbors, but are a threat to global security overall. Furthermore, China’s unwillingness or inability to stop private and state entities from continued commercial proliferation is even more worrying: though the United States has placed pressure on China to cease these activities, the problem continues, begging for a new strategy to force China’s hand. Otherwise, the idea of nuclear non-proliferation as a serious international institution may end up being simple folly. Duplicity wins out.

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East Asia

Importance of peace in Afghanistan is vital for China

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image source: chinamission.be

There are multiple passages from Afghanistan to China, like Wakhan Corridor that is 92 km long, stretching to Xinjiang in China. It was formed in 1893 as a result of an agreement between the British Empire and Afghanistan. Another is Chalachigu valley that shares the border with Tajikistan to the north, Pakistan to the south, and Afghanistan to the west. It is referred to as the Chinese part of the Wakhan Corridor. However, the Chinese side of the valley is closed to the public and only local shepherds are allowed. Then there is Wakhjir Pass on the eastern side of the Wakhan corridor but is not accessible to the general public. The terrain is rough on the Afghan side. There are no roads along the Wakhjir Pass, most of the terrain is a dirt track. Like other passages, it can only be accessed via either animals or SUVs, and also due to extreme weather it is open for only seven months throughout the year. North Wakhjir Pass, also called Tegermansu Pass, is mountainous on the border of China and Afghanistan. It stretches from Tegermansu valley on the east and Chalachigu Valley in Xinjiang. All of these passages are extremely uncertain and rough which makes them too risky to be used for trade purposes. For example, the Chalagigu valley and Wakhjir Pass are an engineering nightmare to develop, let alone make them viable.

Similarly, the Pamir mountain range is also unstable and prone to landslides. Both of these routes also experience extreme weather conditions. Alternatives: Since most of the passages are risky for travel, alternatively, trade activities can be routed via Pakistan. For example, there is an access road at the North Wakhjir that connects to Karakoram Highway.

By expanding the road network from Taxkorgan in Xinjiang to Gilgit, using the Karakoram Highway is a probable option. Land routes in Pakistan are already being developed for better connectivity between Islamabad and Beijing as part of CPEC. These routes stretch from Gwadar up to the North.

The Motorway M-1, which runs from Islamabad to Peshawar can be used to link Afghanistan via Landi Kotal. Although the Karakoram highway also suffers from extreme weather and landslides, it is easier for engineers to handle as compared to those in Afghanistan.

China is the first door neighbor of Afghanistan having a common border. If anything happens in Afghanistan will have a direct impact on China. China has a declared policy of peaceful developments and has abandoned all disputes and adversaries for the time being and focused only on economic developments. For economic developments, social stability and security is a pre-requisite. So China emphasizes peace and stability in Afghanistan. It is China’s requirement that its border with Afghanistan should be secured, and restrict movements of any unwanted individuals or groups. China is compelled by any government in Afghanistan to ensure the safety of its borders in the region.

Taliban has ensured china that, its territory will not use against China and will never support any insurgency in China. Based on this confidence, China is cooperating with the Taliban in all possible manners. On the other hand, China is a responsible nation and obliged to extend humanitarian assistance to starving Afghans. While, the US is coercing and exerting pressures on the Taliban Government to collapse, by freezing their assets, and cutting all economic assistance, and lobbying with its Western allies, for exerting economic pressures on the Taliban, irrespective of human catastrophe in Afghanistan. China is generously assisting in saving human lives in Afghanistan. Whereas, the US is preferring politics over human lives in Afghanistan.

The US has destroyed Afghanistan during the last two decades, infrastructure was damaged completely, Agriculture was destroyed, Industry was destroyed, and the economy was a total disaster. While, China is assisting Afghanistan to rebuild its infrastructure, revive agriculture, industrialization is on its way. Chinese mega initiative, Belt and Road (BRI) is hope for Afghanistan.

A peaceful Afghanistan is a guarantee for peace and stability in China, especially in the bordering areas. The importance of Afghan peace is well conceived by China and practically, China is supporting peace and stability in Afghanistan. In fact, all the neighboring countries, and regional countries, are agreed upon by consensus that peace and stability in Afghanistan is a must and prerequisite for whole regions’ development and prosperity.

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Shared Territorial Concern, Opposition to US Intervention Prompt Russia’s Support to China on Taiwan Question

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image credit: kremlin.ru

The situation around the island of Taiwan is raising concerns not only in Chinese mainland, Taiwan island or in the US, but also in the whole world. Nobody would like to see a large-scale military clash between China and the US in the East Pacific. Potential repercussions of such a clash, even if it does not escalate to the nuclear level, might be catastrophic for the global economy and strategic stability, not to mention huge losses in blood and treasure for both sides in this conflict.

Earlier this week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that Moscow continued to firmly support Beijing’s position on Taiwan as an integral part of China. Moreover, he also underlined that Moscow would support Beijing in its legitimate efforts to reunite the breakaway province with the rest of the country. A number of foreign media outlets paid particular attention not to what Lavrov actually said, but omitted his other remarks: the Russian official did not add that Moscow expects reunification to be peaceful and gradual in a way that is similar to China’s repossession of Hong Kong. Many observers of the new Taiwan Straits crisis unfolding concluded that Lavrov’s statement was a clear signal to all parties of the crisis: Russia would likely back even Beijing’s military takeover of the island.

Of course, diplomacy is an art of ambiguity. Lavrov clearly did not call for a military solution to the Taiwan problem. Still, his remarks were more blunt and more supportive of Beijing than the standard Russia’s rhetoric on the issue. Why? One possible explanation is that the Russian official simply wanted to sound nice to China as Russia’s major strategic partner. As they say, “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” Another explanation is that Lavrov recalled the Russian experience with Chechnya some time ago, when Moscow had to fight two bloody wars to suppress secessionism in the North Caucasus. Territorial integrity means a lot for the Russian leadership. This is something that is worth spilling blood for.

However, one can also imagine that in Russia they simply do not believe that if things go really bad for Taiwan island, the US would dare to come to its rescue and that in the end of the day Taipei would have to yield to Beijing without a single shot fired. Therefore, the risks of a large-scale military conflict in the East Pacific are perceived as relatively low, no matter what apocalyptic scenarios various military experts might come up with.

Indeed, over last 10 or 15 years the US has developed a pretty nasty habit of inciting its friends and partners to take risky and even reckless decisions and of letting these friends and partners down, when the latter had to foot the bill for these decisions. In 2008, the Bush administration explicitly or implicitly encouraged Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili to launch a military operation against South Ossetia including killing some Russian peacekeepers stationed there. But when Russia interfered to stop and to roll back the Georgian offensive, unfortunate Saakashvili was de-facto abandoned by Washington.

During the Ukrainian conflicts of 2013-14, the Obama administration enthusiastically supported the overthrow of the legitimate president in Kiev. However, it later preferred to delegate the management of the crisis to Berlin and to Paris, abstaining from taking part in the Normandy process and from signing the Minsk Agreements. In 2019, President Donald Trump promised his full support to Juan Guaidó, Head of the National Assembly in Venezuela, in his crusade against President Nicolas when the government of Maduro demonstrated its spectacular resilience. Juan Guaido very soon almost completely disappeared from Washington’s political radar screens.

Earlier this year the Biden administration stated its firm commitment to shouldering President Ashraf Ghani in Afghanistan in his resistance to Taliban advancements. But when push came to shove, the US easily abandoned its local allies, evacuated its military personal in a rush and left President Ghani to seek political asylum in the United Arab Emirates.

Again and again, Washington gives reasons to conclude that its partners, clients and even allies can no longer consider it as a credible security provider. Would the US make an exception for the Taiwan island? Of course, one can argue that the Taiwan island is more important for the US than Afghanistan, Venezuela, Ukraine and Georgia taken together. But the price for supporting the Taiwan island could also be much higher for the US than the price it would have paid in many other crisis situations. The chances of the US losing to China over Taiwan island, even if Washington mobilizes all of its available military power against Beijing, are also very high. Still, we do not see such a mobilization taking place now. It appears that the Biden administration is not ready for a real showdown with Beijing over the Taiwan question.

If the US does not put its whole weight behind the Taiwan island, the latter will have to seek some kind of accommodation with the mainland on terms abandoning its pipe-dreams of self-determination and independence. This is clear to politicians not only in East Asia, but all over the place, including Moscow. Therefore, Sergey Lavrov has reasons to firmly align himself with the Chinese position. The assumption in the Kremlin is that Uncle Sam will not dare to challenge militarily the Middle Kingdom. Not this time.

From our partner RIAC

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East Asia

Russia-Japan Relations: Were Abe’s Efforts In Vain?

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Expanding the modest elements of trust in the Japan-Russia relationship, talking through reciprocal concerns before they lead to conflict, avoiding bilateral incidents, and engaging in mutually beneficial economic cooperation is the way forward.

One year after the end of Shinzo Abe’s long period of leadership, Japan has a new prime minister once again. The greatest foreign policy challenge the new Japanese government led by Fumio Kishida is facing is the intensifying confrontation between its large neighbor China and its main ally America. In addition to moves to energize the Quad group to which Japan belongs alongside Australia, India, and the United States, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has concluded a deal with Canberra and London to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines which in future could patrol the Western Pacific close to Chinese shores. The geopolitical fault lines in the Indo-Pacific region are fast turning into frontlines.

In this context, does anything remain of the eight-year-long effort by former prime minister Abe to improve relations with Russia on the basis of greater economic engagement tailored to Moscow’s needs? Russia’s relations with China continue to develop, including in the military domain; Russia’s constitutional amendments passed last year prohibit the handover of Russian territory, which doesn’t bode well for the long-running territorial dispute with Japan over the South Kuril Islands; and Russian officials and state-run media have been remembering and condemning the Japanese military’s conduct during World War II, something they chose to play down in the past. True, Moscow has invited Tokyo to participate in economic projects on the South Kuril Islands, but on Russian terms and without an exclusive status.

To many, the answer to the above question is clear, and it is negative. Yet that attitude amounts to de facto resignation, a questionable approach. Despite the oft-cited but erroneous Cold War analogy, the present Sino-American confrontation has created two poles in the global system, but not—at least, not yet—two blocs. Again, despite the popular and equally incorrect interpretation, Moscow is not Beijing’s follower or vassal. As a power that is particularly sensitive about its own sovereignty, Russia seeks to maintain an equilibrium—which is not the same as equidistance—between its prime partner and its main adversary. Tokyo would do well to understand that and take it into account as it structures its foreign relations.

The territorial dispute with Russia is considered to be very important for the Japanese people, but it is more symbolic than substantive. In practical terms, the biggest achievement of the Abe era in Japan-Russia relations was the founding of a format for high-level security and foreign policy consultations between the two countries. With security issues topping the agenda in the Indo-Pacific, maintaining the channel for private direct exchanges with a neighboring great power that the “2+2” formula offers is of high value. Such a format is a trademark of Abe’s foreign policy which, while being loyal to Japan’s American ally, prided itself on pursuing Japanese national interests rather than solely relying on others to take them into account.

Kishida, who for five years served as Abe’s foreign minister, will now have a chance to put his own stamp on the country’s foreign policy. Yet it makes sense for him to build on the accomplishments of his predecessor, such as using the unique consultation mechanism mentioned above to address geopolitical and security issues in the Indo-Pacific region, from North Korea to Afghanistan. Even under Abe, Japan’s economic engagement with Russia was by no means charity. The Russian leadership’s recent initiatives to shift more resources to eastern Siberia offer new opportunities to Japanese companies, just like Russia’s early plans for energy transition in response to climate change, and the ongoing development projects in the Arctic. In September 2021, the annual Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok did not feature top-level Japanese participation, but that should be an exception, not the rule.

Japan will remain a trusted ally of the United States for the foreseeable future. It is also safe to predict that at least in the medium term, and possibly longer, the Russo-Chinese partnership will continue to grow. That is no reason for Moscow and Tokyo to regard each other as adversaries, however. Moreover, since an armed conflict between America and China would spell a global calamity and have a high chance of turning nuclear, other major powers, including Russia and Japan, have a vital interest in preventing such a collision. Expanding the still very modest elements of trust in the Japan-Russia relationship, talking through reciprocal concerns before they lead to conflict, avoiding bilateral incidents, and engaging in mutually beneficial economic cooperation is the way forward. The absence of a peace treaty between the two countries more than seventy-five years after the end of the war is abnormal, yet that same unfinished business should serve as a stimulus to persevere. Giving up is an option, but not a good one.

From our partner RIAC

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