China is all set to announce its intent to provide to Pakistan two nuclear-power reactors, according to a prominent American nuclear expert who said this would breach international protocol about the trade of nuclear equipment and material.
China's announcement will also overstep the guidelines of the 46-country Nuclear Suppliers Group, which bars nuclear commerce between Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty members like China and non-member states like Pakistan, Mark Hibbs a senior associate in the nuclear policy programme at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said.
"In the coming weeks, China is expected to announce that it intends to export two nuclear-power reactors to Pakistan. The move would breach international protocol about the trade of nuclear equipment and material," Hibbs said in the latest issue of the prestigious Foreign Policy magazine.
Hibbs said once the deal is officially confirmed, the spotlight won't be on either Beijing or Islamabad, it will be on Washington, which concluded a watershed nuclear agreement with India in 2008.
"That deal is the precedent that has opened the door for China creating an awkward test for a US administration greatly concerned about the risks of nuclear proliferation," he wrote.
"It will leave US President Barack Obama with two options, he can either oppose the transaction and request that China leave the NSG, or grudgingly accept the Chinese exports".
As of last week, when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Chinese leaders in Beijing for the three-day US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, the US was strongly leaning toward the latter, Hibbs said.
The noted author said if the White House does choose to grin and bear the China-Pakistan deal, it will have compelling reasons for doing so.
"The United States has a lot on its plate with China right now. It wants Chinese help on UN Security Council sanctions against Iran, a greater Chinese effort to rein in North Korea, and a significant revaluation of China's currency vis-a-vis the US dollar," he said.
"But more importantly, US made its own NSG rule-suspending nuclear deal with India in 2008. Beijing could have blocked the NSG exemption for India, but accommodated the pressure of the US and its allies on this issue. Now, the bill is coming due as Islamabad demands equal treatment."
"China would now expect reciprocity from the United States in the NSG, given that it was Washington that started changing the rules," he noted.
Hibbs said a number of NPT countries are watching all this with alarm. "At last month's NPT Review Conference, they referred to the US -India deal as a dangerous precedent. States that export nuclear equipment, they worried, would feel emboldened to brush aside rules meant to reward NPT membership with nuclear-trade privileges," he said.