China has said it will continue supporting Pakistan's civilian nuclear programme in spite of concerns over the vulnerability of the country's installations to terrorism, an issue that is expected to figure at a prominent nuclear security summit next week.
Chinese officials on Tuesday acknowledged that there were growing “threats of terrorists or international organisations acquiring material to make nuclear devices”, an issue that the March 26 summit in Seoul will address by looking at ways to step up international cooperation to guard against nuclear terrorism.
The officials were, however, careful to downplay the risks of nuclear terrorism faced in “all-weather” ally Pakistan, stressing that China would continue supplying reactors and technology to strengthen the country's civilian nuclear programme.
Luo Zhaohui, Director General of the Department of Asian Affairs at the Foreign Ministry, told reporters that China's cooperation with Pakistan “is still going on”.
He added that it was subject to IAEA safeguards and in accordance with international law.
However, China's support to Pakistan's civilian nuclear programme is seen as going against the guidelines governing nuclear trade.
The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), of which China is a member, bars the transfer of nuclear technology to countries that have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). India was granted a waiver for its deal with the United States, but only after undertaking a range of commitments.
Chinese state-run companies are in talks to build three 1,000-MW plants in Pakistan — two at the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant and a fifth at the Chashma complex.
The 2009 deals for the third and fourth reactors at Chashma triggered controversy as they came after China joined the NSG.
Asked if China could guarantee the safety of Pakistan's plants and whether concerns would be raised in Seoul, Assistant Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu only said the summit, which will be attended by President Hu Jintao, would look at additional measures to strengthen nuclear security and step up international cooperation.
Mr. Luo said China had given greater attention to the issue of nuclear safety in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear leak in Japan. “We have had some consultations and conducted some technical work,” he said. “We have full confidence in our nuclear energy technology, and this has been borne out by facts.”