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SINO INDIAN RELATIONS III: More on Indian Nukes and China:

Paper No. 53

Two papers were published recently on Sino Indian Relations in our web site-one a chronology after Pokhran II tests and another on the Indian nukes and China.  This paper is more in the nature of a commentary to supplement the other two.

In the paper on Indian Nukes and China, Mr.Gopal had referred to the observations  made by Prof. Tan Chung, Co- Chairman  of the Institute of Chinese studies, that the Chinese do not feel particularly insecure about India going nuclear.  The remarks made by the Chinese Ambassador in India were also to the effect that "Beijing does not see India as a threat to its security."

Soon after Pokhran II tests, Mr. C.V.Ranganathan, Chairman of the same Institute of Chinese studies visited China to make an assessment of the Chinese position after the tests.  On his return he made two observations on the Chinese perception.(1) 

 1.  China has not violated any treaty or laws in the transfer of nuclear know how to Pakistan.  On the question of missiles the Chinese were however defensive.

 2.  China is not really concerned about India going nuclear but was upset that India named China to justify its tests.

While it is true that the Indian nuclear programme was less of a concern to China than those of the United States and Russia (2), could it be said that  the development of a nuclear capability of India is of no concern at all to China?  

Chinese Reaction in the Past:

We do not have access to the vast amount of material that is being produced in China by institutions dealing with international relations particularly on the relationship between Indian and China.  But what little is known shows a different picture from what is officially made out.

One Chinese scholar had argued that the motive for the Indian nuclear programme was that "India is trying to gain the initiative in the Asia Pacific."(3)

Chinese scientists affiliated with the nuclear weapons programmes showed concern over India's nuclear capability and were quoted to have pointed out that "India's nuclear infra structure is large enough to possibly outproduce China in the future if so desired"(4).    

This was way back towards the end of eighties and the beginning of nineties, before Pokhran II, before the Prithvi was fully tested and when the Agni was in the "technology demonstration" stage.  

Chinese Reaction after Pokhran II tests:

Of the five recognised nuclear weapon powers, China has been the most vehement in condemning the Indian tests.  While other nuclear weapon powers and their surrogates have generally called upon India to sign the CTBT and place a moratorium on production of fissile material, China was one country which called upon India to sign the NPT.  Some Indian scholars tried to explain that the vehemence of China's reaction was due to the letter the Prime minster of India wrote to Clinton naming China in justifying the tests.  As if to  strengthen this reasoning they point out that the initial reaction of Chinese before the contents of the letter to Clinton were known, was balanced. 

All that had happened was that  what should have been left "unsaid" in diplomatic exchanges was said but the fact of the matter was that if the Indian security concerns were to be considered in a larger matrix, the Chinese threat will have to be taken into account.

After the tests, it is learnt that the Chinese were in constant touch with USA and they were also being regularly briefed on the progress of the Jaswant Singh-Talbott talks.  India's nuclear tests figured in the talks between Clinton and Jiang Zemin during the former's visit to China and in the joint communique issued toward the end of the visit.  China is understood to have accused USA of being soft on India and even went to the extent of holding USA responsible for  making India go nuclear!

China's track record:

Has China followed the provisions of NPT when it wants India to sign the NPT?  It is unnecessary here to chronicle the extensive illegal transfers of nuclear know how and equipment to Pakistan by China.  These are well known.  However, we would restrict ourselves to quote one portion from the Chinese first defence white paper of November 1995, which focussed on arms control and disarmament.   We quote 

  Since 1992 when it (China) became a party to the treaty, it has strictly fulfilled all its obligations under the treaty ....  China follows three principles regarding nuclear exports serving peaceful use only, accepting IAEA's safeguards and no retransfers to a third country.
Has China followed the three principles enunciated?

In a report of 1997, the Director of Central Intelligence Agency, USA said that China "was the primary source of nuclear-related equipment and technology to Pakistan" during the second half of 1996. (5)

In practice China has had scant regard for the provisions of the NPT.    In Feb. 1966 it was disclosed by the Washington Times  that the China National Nuclear Corporation, (State owned) transferred to the A.Q.Khan Research Laboratory in Kahuta, Pakistan, 5000 ring magnets, which can be used in gas centrifuges to enrich uranium.   The Kahuta facility is not under IAEA safeguards. (6)

The same Chinese firm sold a "a special Industrial furnace" and "high-tech diagnostic equipment" to unsafe guarded nuclear facilities in Pakistan. It is reported that the Chinese technicians themselves visited Pakistan to install the equipment. (7)  

It is also known that the Chinese built the entire research reactor facility at Khusab (not under IAEA safe guards)and further diverted heavy water meant for other safe guarded facilities to Kahuta to begin operations.

Indian Response:

India had been closely following the cooperation and clandestine transfer of sensitive material from China to Pakistan.  But whenever the matter of transfer of nuclear or missile technology was taken up by India, there has been the standard response that "China will not do or has not done anything that would go against the interest of India."  Even recently after the Pokhran II tests, the Chinese have continued to maintain that China has not violated any treaty or laws in its nuclear cooperation with Pakistan. Indian efforts so far to enter in a strategic dialogue on nuclear matters have also been rebuffed.

Why this illegal tranfer?

Many reasons have been given by various analysts for continued violation of NPT in the matter of nuclear cooperation with Pakistan.  Some important ones are

 * China views a strong and independent Pakistan as important in maintaining a balance of power favourable to itself in Southeast Asia and thus China's security. (8)
 India has a long history of cultural relations with the countries of south east Asia and at no time in their history have these countries felt threatened by India.  This is not the case with China.  Developments in the Mischief reef is one indication.

 * Indian strategic objectives unfortunately were focussed on the nuclear developments in Pakistan and the transfer of equipment, design and technology from China and not in the larger context of Sino Indian  relations.  Thus, China succeeded in keeping  this focus purely in a regional context.  It is now increasingly felt by the Indian policy makers and at least from the time of conclusion of CTBT in the CD and the UN General Assembly that India has a much larger security perspective and cannot be "Pakistan centric" anymore.  The testing of a thermo nuclear device(9) and the test of Agni II have offset the unstated advantage China had in the past of being the only nuclear weapon power in the Asian region. Could we still believe that China is "unconcerned?"  

If China could have a minimum deterrent, why not India?

Prof. Tanchung had said that after a long time in Chinese history, China  no longer feels threatened from the north (10).  Our paper on "Strategic culture and Grand strategy in Chinese history may be seen.  

China and the former Soviet Union signed an "Agreement on Principles Governing the Mutual Reduction of Military Forces and the Enhancement of Confidence in the Military Field in the Border areas".  Both China and Russia have agreed "on no first use of nuclear weapons against each other and on not targeting their respective strategic nuclear weapons at each other" Yet China continues to have a large inventory of nuclear weaponry and delivery systems. While repeating the need for total and global disarmament there is no move on the part of China to reduce its arsenal, in keeping with Article VI of NPT.  Although India and China have concluded an Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility Along the Line of Actual Control in the Border areas (11), should China not concede the same deterrence capability for India to safe guard its national interests?

China's nuclear ambitions:

China became the fifth nuclear state in 1964 with the succesful test of its first nuclear device made with highly enriched Uranium at Lop Nor.  Within a short period, shorter than what US took, it conducted its multi stage thermo nuclear test by June 1967.  The Risk Report (12) quoting the Natural Resources Defence Council's Nuclear Weapon Databook has said that China has tested and deployed six different war head designs.  Recent press reports indicate that China has vastly improved the designs and the delivery systems with technology obtained unauthorisedly from US laboratories.  

Both in quality and quantity China is far ahead of India in nuclear weaponisation.  To seek parity with China would involve enormous outlay and at great political and economic costs. It is not necessary either.

Civilian Nuclear programme:

The first Power reactor of China at Qingshan Zhejiang province was completed in 1993 after many technical problems involving several visits of technical experts from outside to provide safety measures.  The Risk report  quotes an US government expert who tracks China's nuclear progress that "For years the Chinese have said that the Qinshan reactors were entirely made in China which is a lie."  The pressure vessel for the reactor was imported from Japan and the coolant pumps were from a German firm.  The Qinshan type of reactor China was building for Pakistan was delayed considerably as there were problems in procuring the pressure vessel from abroad which finally was obtained from Japan after US clearance.  India makes its own pressure vessels.  China is rapidly expanding its power projects with outside help.  These are

1.  A start is being made in the constructions of two VVER-1000 unis at Lianyungan on the basis of an agreement signed between Russia and China in January this year.
2.  A French led consortium has begun construction work at Ling Ao nuclear plant at Daya Bay and commercial operation is expected to begin in July 2002.
3.  Four other units, Qinshan Phase 2 with two units and Qinshan Phase 3 with two more units of CANDU type (Canadian help). For Phase 2 of Qinshan, Mitsubishi is building the pressure vessel for the first unit.
It could be seen that China is still dependent on western countries for some of the vital components of the reactors.   With western countries vying with each other to provide China with the know how, the gap between India and China in civilian nuclear technology will soon be closed.  India is therefore justified in seeking access to advanced technology in return for adhering to the provisions of the CTBT and stopping further production of fissile material (FMCT). 

Chinese Nukes towards India:

Recent Press Reports indicate that China has redeployed its missiles towards India after the Agni II tests.  This itself is enough justification for India to go ahead with Agni III tests.  Unless India has a viable and credible deterrence against China, no meaningful dialogue with China on strategic accommodation between the two countries is possible.


Dr. S.Chandrasekharan.                                                    19th May, 1999.


1.  In a seminar at IIC of the Institute of Peace and Conflict studies. We ignore here a visit by a Congress I delegation led by Mr. Natwar Singh to China.  This visit was more a result of internal political compulsions than on Sino Indian relations as such. 
2.  Lisbeth Gronlund and David Wright, "China and a Fissile Material Production Cut-off", Survival, vol. 37.,no.4 1995-1996, p.156
3.  Tong Xuan, "Youyige Hedaguo ze Jueqi-Indu de Helliang ji Fazhan Zhuangkuang", Nanya Yanjiu Jikan, February 1987.
4.  Ibid. Lisbeith Gronlund and David Wright. P. 157, in a private communication with participants of ISODARCO, Beijing Arms control seminar.
5.  Director of Central Intelligence, The Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions-July-December 1996, June 1997.
6.  Shirley A.Kan .,CRS papers, 92056: Chinese Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction: Current Policy Issues updated June 1, 1998.
7.  Ibid., Shirley Kan.
8.  John. W.Garver, "China and South Asia", The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 519, January 1992. Pp. 67-85
9.   Unconfirmed reports indicate that soon after Pokhran II tests, the Foreign Secretary of Pakistan in his visit to Beijing sought a " thermo nuclear device" for testing purposes to show parity with India.  This was turned down.  It may be recalled that China turned down an earlier request to test the Pakistani device at Lop Nor.
10.  In a private conversation with the writer. 
11. These are referred to in the white paper of China.
12.  Risk Report, Vol.9, November 1995. , "China's nuclear ambition grows."