China on Monday mounted a defence of its on-going and controversial civilian nuclear cooperation with Pakistan, arguing that its exports of nuclear reactors “did not violate the norms” of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a body that governs global nuclear trade.

Chinese companies are reported to be involved in the construction of at least two new reactors at the Chashma nuclear power complex in Pakistan, where China has already built two reactors.

Last month, China and Pakistan reportedly signed another deal for a 1,000 MW reactor at Chashma during a visit by the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission to China between February 15 and 18, according to a Friday report in the Washington Free Beacon that cited U.S. intelligence sources.

Chinese officials on Monday did not deny the Washington Free Beacon's report. Asked if he could confirm the deal, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei told reporters, “China has noted the relevant report”.

Suggesting that China's cooperation with Pakistan would continue, he said: "I want to point out that relevant cooperation between China and Pakistan does not violate relevant norms of the NSG. In recent years, China and Pakistan have carried out some cooperation in the field of civilian nuclear cooperation. All this cooperation is for peaceful use and this cooperation is in compliance with our respective international obligations and subject to the safeguards of the IAEA”.

Agreements signed by the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) in 2009 for two new reactors, Chashma-3 and Chashma-4, had triggered controversy as the deals were struck after China became a member of the NSG, a 46-member body that prohibits the sale of technology to countries that have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). India had to seek a waiver from the NSG, by undertaking a range of commitments, before its civilian nuclear deal with the U.S. went ahead.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) granted its approval to a safeguards agreement for the two new reactors, Chashma-3 and Chashma-4, in March 2011. The Washington Free Beacon report left unclear whether the deal for the 1,000 MW reactor was for a new fifth reactor at Chashma, or whether it referred to upgrading an earlier agreement.

When asked about the deals at NSG meetings in 2011, Chinese officials had argued that the two new reactors were “grandfathered” under the earlier deals for Chashma-1 and Chashma-2, which China had already declared as part of its commitments when it joined the body.

Last year, CNNC officials told a conference in Beijing they were in talks to export another 1,000 MW reactor to Pakistan, either to Chashma or to the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant complex. That China and Pakistan were in negotiations for another deal, despite concerns voiced by some NSG members, was seen at the time as an indication that China was prepared to go ahead with exports, regardless of the group's concerns.

More In: World | International | News