China will press for American support for its plan to sell two nuclear power reactors to Pakistan, in Monday's “sub-dialogue on South Asia” with United States officials in Beijing.
The U.S., diplomats and analysts say, is likely to indicate it will not obstruct the controversial deal. In return, the U.S. will ask for greater Chinese support for sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme.
But both governments have, so far, remained tight-lipped on the agenda for Monday's talks between U.S. Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake and Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Wang Guangya.
The recently initiated dialogue on South Asia takes place against a backdrop of rising concerns in India over the Barack Obama administration appearing to encourage China to play a greater role in the region.
Following Mr. Obama's visit to Beijing in November, the U.S. and China pledged to “to strengthen communication, dialogue and cooperation on issues related to South Asia,” in a joint statement which angered Indian officials.
Now, Indian officials are again likely to be left concerned, with the U.S. appearing to take a soft line on China's nuclear engagement with Pakistan.
According to many analysts, China's plan to sell two power reactors goes against internationally mandated guidelines on the transfer of nuclear equipment, and will require China to seek special exemption from the Nuclear Suppliers' Group. China has been a member of the NSG since 2004.
Following the India-U.S. civilian nuclear agreement, to which the NSG granted special exemption, Pakistan has been increasingly pressing for a similar deal, both with the U.S. and China.
In March, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi reiterated Pakistan's desire for a civilian nuclear agreement in talks in Washington. While the U.S. has ruled out granting a similar deal, reports have suggested the U.S. looked to placate Pakistani officials by granting a tacit approval to its nuclear co-operation with China.
Another consideration for Washington is securing Chinese support on imposing sanctions on Iran. “The United States may also tolerate China's new nuclear deal with Pakistan because Obama wants China's support for United Nations Security Council sanctions against Iran this spring,” analyst Mark Hibbs of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace wrote earlier this week.
The situation in Afghanistan will also figure on top of the agenda in Monday's talks, said Ma Jiali, a South Asia expert at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. “Both China and the U.S. are concerned about the security situation in Afghanistan,” he said. “The U.S. needs China's understanding and support to bring stability.”