01 September 2008

People's Daily commentary on the Indian nuclear deal

In diplomacy, timing is everything. One day after the U.S. circulated a new draft proposal to grant India a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group's export rules, China's authoritative People's Daily has carried a commentary attacking the U.S. for its "double standards on non-proliferation". The piece also echoes -- without directly endorsing -- the demand raised by several states at the NSG meeting on August 21-22 (but not by China directly) for the waiver to be made conditional.

The commentary is by Fan Jishe of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Fan is also a former fellow of Harvard's Belfer Center 'Project on Managing the Atom'.

For those of you know Mandarin, the original article is here. I presume People's Daily will publish an official translation soon but I am enclosing an unofficial translation of the piece into English ...[On October 26, 2005, the People's Daily published a more general but equally skeptical commentary on the Indo-US deal by Xin Benjian titled 'Who's pushing nuclear proliferation'. An English version is available here.] ...

US-India nuclear agreement in difficulty

Fan Jishe
People's Daily
September 1, 2008

Recently, the Nuclear Suppliers Group of 45 member states ended a two-day meeting in which they failed to reach a consensus on whether to lift their embargo on India's nuclear sector. Earlier, on August 1, the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency approved India’s safeguards agreement. Following this, the United States approached the Nuclear Suppliers Group on the basis of the relevant US-India civilian nuclear cooperation Act, to modify its rules and lift the ban on India's nuclear trade. But contrary to what the US asked, the NSG plenary sought about 50 amendments. Now, the Nuclear Suppliers Group's next meeting will be in early September but it unknown whether the US-India agreement will get the green signal.

The safeguards agreement India signed with the IAEA is a very loose, non-binding agreement. It does not clarify which Indian nuclear facilities must be under IAEA guarantee and supervision, and it also does not expressly require all Indian civilian nuclear facilities and nuclear fuel to be under permanent, unconditional safeguards. This has aroused the worries of an international non-proliferation expert: “India is enjoying the benefits of a party to the "Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty" without being bound to accept the corresponding restraints”.

The proposal presented by the United States to the Nuclear Suppliers Group was also vague version, so the relevant parties were not satisfied. In the draft submitted by the United States, two crucial non-proliferation questions have not been clearly answered: Under what conditions should the international community lift the ban on nuclear trade? And under what circumstances would it put an end to Indian nuclear trade, limiting vertical nuclear proliferation by India. The proposal does not require India to stop production of fissile material. And though India has promised to stop nuclear tests, the proposal did not say that if India conducts a nuclear test, other countries should put an end to Indian nuclear trade. In other words, if the supply of nuclear fuel is not linked by the NSG to India's nuclear tests, India cannot be strictly held to its non-proliferation obligations. Also, the draft did not provide for periodic evaluation of India’s mandatory compliance with the exemption provisions. The proposal did not even strictly limit India’s access to sensitive nuclear technology and equipment imports, especially uranium enrichment equipment, reprocessing and heavy water production items and technologies. This is undoubtedly conducive to India improving the number and quality of its nuclear weapons.

Whether because of geostrategic considerations or driven by commercial interests, the US-India nuclear agreement will have a significant impact on the international non-proliferation mechanism. That is why the Nuclear Suppliers Group member countries are generally calling for termination of the exemption if India conducts nuclear tests or is in non-compliance with safeguards agreements, strictly limiting the supply to India of sensitive nuclear technology and nuclear equipment exports, and Indian compliance with the provisions of the exemption to be subjected to regular assessment.

The U.S. is eager to push the US-India nuclear agreement for the removal of barriers so as to turn it into the Bush administration's diplomatic legacy but the administration is likely to find the completion of this task is still very difficult. The first difficulty might be if in the beginning of September the Nuclear Suppliers Group cannot reach a consensus on this proposal. Second, even if it gets the Nuclear Suppliers Group’s permission, the U.S. domestic legal procedures still present problems, including problems of time and the terms of the agreement. According to the 2006 "Hyde Act," the Bush administration must let Congress have 30 days to consider whether to approve the US-India nuclear agreement, while Congress plans to adjourn September 26. In addition, whether the agreement will be passed in Congress is also uncertain given the “Hyde Act’s” non-proliferation benchmarks.

33 years ago, because of India's nuclear tests, the United States advocated and promoted the establishment of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to restrict nuclear trade. Once again it is also the United States which, in order to advance geo-strategic and commercial interests, is asking the Nuclear Suppliers Group to open a "backdoor" for India. Regardless of the future fate of the US-India nuclear agreement, the world will question the United States for its double standards on non-proliferation.

(The author is an associate researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)


Pavel said...

How seriously should one take this commentary by a Chinese scholar as the OFFICIAL line of Chinese government?

I understand the Chinese press is not free. But in the past too People's Daily has run acrid commentaries on America which do not fully mirror Beijing's actual poisition , which tends to be more nuanced and 'hedged'.

But I would welcome the view of China watchers to my query.

Anonymous said...

Under normal circumstances, it could be viewed just as a trial balloon, but this time, it indicate a major change in policy.

Watch what the Chinese delegation do, not what they say, at the next NSG meeting on September 4 - if it is held at all.

To have one of the 5 Nuclear Weapons State member of the NSG come out against the deal in the People's Daily is a pretty big deal.

Certainly the Indian press think so.

vinay said...

China's record on non proliferation needs no introduction, it systematically armed nations like north korea, iran and pakistan. its conflicting comments on india's strategic role in the global community needs careful analysis , it can be only counterd through assertive policies such as the nuclear deal..