China's State-run nuclear energy firm is in talks to set up a one gigawatt nuclear power plant in Pakistan, officials said on Monday, indicating that China would proceed with its nuclear cooperation with Pakistan regardless of renewed international concerns over non-proliferation.

Qiu Jiangang, vice-president of the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), told a meeting in Beijing the State-run firm was in talks to build the plant, which would be its biggest ever operation in Pakistan. “Both sides are in discussions over the CNNC exporting a one GW nuclear plant to Pakistan,” the Reuters news agency quoted him as saying.

The CNNC, which has already set up two power plants at Chashma in Pakistan, earlier this year announced it would set up two additional 300 MW power reactors. The deal triggered debate over non-proliferation, going against the mandated, but non-enforceable, guidelines governing nuclear trade. The guidelines of the 46-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) prevent the transfer of nuclear technology to countries which have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). While China has not yet sought an exemption from the NSG, leaving the status of the deal unclear, Monday's announcement suggested China was likely to proceed with civilian nuclear engagement with Pakistan on a much larger scale.

Mr. Qiu also confirmed that the CNNC had signed contracts to build the two 300 MW plants, Chashma-3 and Chashma-4.

The CNNC has already agreed to build two reactors, the 325 MW Chashma-1, which started operating in 2000, and Chashma-2, which will be completed next year.

While the Chinese government has, as yet, not confirmed any of the three recent deals, its Foreign Ministry said in a statement in June that China's nuclear cooperation with Pakistan strictly followed the guidelines of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The government has also stressed that its cooperation was entirely for peaceful purposes.

The Chinese government has not made clear whether it would seek an exemption from the NSG before proceeding with the new deals. China became a member of the NSG in 2004.

The NSG granted a waiver to its rules banning the transfer of nuclear technology to non-NPT countries for India's civilian nuclear agreement with the United States, but only after India took on a range of commitments, including placing its civilian plants under IAEA safeguards.

Proliferation debate

Amid the renewed proliferation debate following the CNNC's deals, Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari, during a July visit to Beijing, told Chinese President Hu Jintao that it was in China's interest to continue its civilian nuclear engagement, regardless of international concerns, to help Pakistan address its “yawning” gap between power supply and demand and in the interests of regional stability.

The CNNC official's announcement at a seminar on Monday came just as Pakistan's Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Norman Bashir held talks with Chinese Defence Minister Liang Guanglie, and called for the two countries to expand military relations.

Admiral Bashir was in China to mark the completion of construction of three F-22 frigates, which China has built for the Pakistani Navy.

A fourth will be built in Pakistan. He called for Chinese cooperation for the construction of submarines and “bigger warships”, and said the “present geo-political situation” and “the environment around” Pakistan and China demanded “further strengthening” of defence ties.

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