Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei was asked Monday about a report in the Free Beacon March 22 that first disclosed the secret agreement for the reactor reached last month in Beijing between the China National Nuclear Corp. and the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission.
“China has noted the relevant report,” Hong told reporters in Beijing.
Normally, Chinese government spokesmen deny such reports and label them “groundless” as a way to avoid comment. The spokesman’s use of the phrase “noted the relevant report” is unusual and a tacit admission the report is accurate.
U.S. intelligence and diplomatic officials privately said the agreement was reached in Beijing during a visit by a high-level Pakistani delegation of nuclear industry officials from Feb. 15 to 18.
The Chinese at the meeting urged Pakistan to keep the deal secret to avoid expected international opposition by states that say the sale violates China’s commitment to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a 46-member association aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.
However, Hong denied the sale violates the voluntary NSG guidelines.
“The cooperation between China and Pakistan does not violate relevant principles of the Nuclear Suppliers Group,” he said. “In recent years, China and Pakistan do indeed carry out some joint projects related to civilian use of nuclear energy. These projects are for peaceful purpose only, in compliance with the international obligations shared by both countries, and they are subject to guarantee and monitor by international atomic energy organization.”
However, U.S. intelligence officials said the China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC) is Beijing’s main nuclear weapons producer and is working to modernize Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal in addition to the civilian reactor construction at Chashma.
A State Department spokesman had no immediate comment on China’s confirmation of the nuclear deal.
A Pakistani Embassy spokesman also had no immediate comment.
Richard Fisher, a China affairs specialist with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said it was a mistake to allow China to join the NSG without first revealing its intention to build two new Chashma reactors.
The action has allowed China to gain the benefits of obtaining U.S. nuclear technology under the NSG while not having to curtail its longstanding efforts to bolster the nuclear capabilities of its client states, Fisher said.