CHINA AND PAKISTAN RELATIONS: COOPERATION AND NUCLEAR BOMBS

RELATIONS BETWEEN PAKISTAN AND CHINA

Pakistan has traditionally regarded China as one of its closest---if not its closest---ally. China is Pakistan's oldest and most powerful Asian ally. It has supplied Pakistan with weapons, technology and billions of dollars worth of development money. It has helped Pakistan with infrastructure projects such at the Karakoram Highway, the Gwadar Port Project. China’s relationship with Pakistan has been strained somewhat by Pakistan’s support of radical Muslim groups, linked to Islamic groups that China regarded as a threat in the western China.

Pakistan and China are allies against India. Both countries have fought wars with India in the last 40 years. China helped Pakistan build the KKH, partly to make it easier to supply weapons and move troops, and has supplied Pakistan with missiles and assistance for its nuclear weapons program. In April 2005, Pakistan and China signed a friendship. China has offered its help in settling the dispute between Pakistan and India.

“India looms large in both countries’ calculations,” AP reported. “Pakistan sees China as an ally that will take its side in any dispute with India, with which Islamabad has fought three wars since 1948. China sees New Delhi’s preoccupation with Pakistan as a hedge against a growing economic competitor.” “Pakistan understands that China’s relationship with India is also necessary and is good in a way because it can have a stabilizing effect on the region,” said Talat Masood, an analyst and former Pakistani general. “I think Pakistan is quite realistic about it.”

In October 2008, within days after he was selected, Pakistan’s new President Asif Ali Zardani made a state visit to China and was given a warm welcome, with a personal greeting by Chinese President Hu Jintao. The same month China announced that it would help Pakistan build nuclear power plants.

China has been involved in trying to ease tensions between India and Pakistan.

China, Pakistan’s All-Weather Friend

Pakistani leaders have called China Pakistan’s “all weather friend?---offering consistent, no-strings-attached support over the decades. Hamayoun Khan, a former researcher at the China Studies Center at the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad, told AP, “There is a view that the U.S. is just here for a short period of time and that they have no long-term interests. Whereas China has a very long term interest with Pakistan and they always stay with Pakistan because they are your neighbor.”

“China sees Pakistan as a useful partner in a difficult and violent region, as a potential buffer against more extreme elements in the Muslim world, and---looking to a more distant future---a useful geographic outlet to the Arabian Sea for China’s western provinces,” Daniel Markey, an analyst on South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, told AP.

Pakistan is also desperate for foreign investment to help create jobs for its 175 million people and is seeking more economic ties with China. In December 2010, Pakistan and China signed $35 billion worth of deals as Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said China would “never give up” on Pakistan. Nearly the entire Pakistani cabinet came out to greet Wen when he landed in Islamabad. In May 2011, China promised to quickly deliver 50 fighter jets to Pakistan.

China is helping Pakistan expand the Chashma nuclear power plant in the Punjab using dated technology from the 1970s. Both country said that work would continue the project even after the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011. China provided the first two reactors at Chasma and is now working on 3 and 4.

China's main nuclear power corporation wants to build a one-gigawatt nuclear power plant in Pakistan even though it appears to be a violation of international guidelines forbidding nuclear exports to countries that have not signed onto the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or do not have international safeguards on reactors. Pakistan has not signed the treaty. [Source: John Pomfret, Washington Post September 24, 2010]

Pakistan Courts China as Relations with U.S. Sour After Osama bin Laden Killing

Reporting from Abbottabad, Pakistan,Griff Witte wrote in the Washington Post, “In this city where U.S. Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden and igniteed a national furor, residents want China, the emerging superpower just 400 miles to the north along the Karakoram Highway, to invest in this economically depressed part of Pakistan and bring roads, energy, trade and jobs. “China is our path to prosperity,” said Haidar Zaman, the former mayor of Abbottabad, which lies in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. [Source: Griff Witte, Washington Post, June 22, 2011]

Many Pakistani leaders believe the same can be true for the entire country: With U.S.-Pakistani relations at their lowest point since 2001, top Pakistani officials have been actively promoting China as an alternative benefactor that could deliver badly needed economic and military assistance without the relentless criticism offered by Washington. But the drive to move Pakistan away from the United States and into the Chinese orbit has run into a cold reality: China is just not that interested.

China’s tentative approach to Pakistan helps explain why, despite widespread antipathy here toward the United States, Pakistan is reluctant to force a deeper rupture in relations with Washington, which provides billions of dollars in aid. Ironically, the same factors that keep the United States heavily invested in Pakistan---terrorism and instability---have persuaded China to hold Pakistan at arm’s length. “What the Americans are doing here---that’s just not a role that China wants to take on,” said Ashraf Ali, who leads the FATA Research Center, a think tank that focuses on militancy in Pakistan’s northwest.

Relations Between Pakistan and China After the Killing of Osama bin Laden

Griff Witte wrote in the Washington Post: A Chinese official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject described Pakistan as a close ally, both politically and militarily, and said it represents a significant business opportunity for Chinese firms. But he also expressed apprehension about Islamist extremism here and noted that any attempt to turn Pakistan into a central trading corridor for China would be a decades-long project. [Source: Griff Witte, Washington Post, June 22, 2011]

Both President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani visited China soon after the May 2 bin Laden raid, with Gillani pointedly calling China “Pakistan’s best friend.” The Pakistani military trumpeted China’s decision to supply Pakistan with 50 fighter jets, even as army officials say they would rather do without U.S. military assistance. Top generals have been contemplating what it would mean for Pakistan to take a stronger stand against Washington and receive a greater share of aid from Beijing. Economic development experts, meanwhile, have been busy drawing up grand plans for ports, pipelines and railways so that Pakistan can reap the full benefit of China’s global rise.

Pakistanis love China just about as much as they dislike the United States: 87 percent of Pakistanis say they have a favorable view of China, compared with 12 percent who say the same about the United States, according to a Pew Research Center survey. The divergent attitudes begin early: Schoolchildren here are taught that the China-Pakistan partnership is “as high as the mountains and as deep as the seas,” but that the United States has been a fickle friend.

Those perceptions have hardened of late amid U.S. pressure on Pakistan to do more in the fight against militant groups and a widespread sense that U.S. assistance comes with strings attached while China’s does not. U.S. lawmakers have been particularly critical of Pakistan since the bin Laden raid, while Pakistan has bristled at not being notified in advance. “The Chinese are not involved in internal Pakistani problems,” said Amir Rana, director of the Pak Institute for Peace Studies. “Washington gives statements about Pakistan every day. China prefers to give its reaction only when needed.”

Chinese Port in Pakistan and the Karakorum Highway

Griff Witte wrote in the Washington Post: Pakistan’s location is also strategically important to China. A Chinese-built deep-sea port in the southwestern Pakistani city of Gwadar offers Chinese companies a potentially faster route to natural resources---including energy supplies---in the Middle East and Africa. It also gives China a possible shortcut for transporting goods from its western regions to foreign markets and for extending its growing naval influence into the Arabian Sea. [Source: Griff Witte, Washington Post, June 22, 2011]

But the port, which opened for business in 2008, has been a disappointment. Although then-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf hailed it as the next Dubai, Gwadar has attracted little business. When Pakistani Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar floated the idea last month of China building a naval base at Gwadar, Beijing politely declined. Much of the problem is Gwadar’s isolation: The port is in Baluchistan, a remote and relatively lawless province that lacks a viable road network.

In the long term, China hopes to link Gwadar with the Karakoram Highway, another major Chinese investment in Pakistan that has yielded few dividends. The highway, which is the world’s highest paved road, is an engineering marvel that slices through 15,000-foot-high mountain passes but attracts sparse traffic: A landslide last year buried a miles-long stretch of the road under water, and any goods being transported between Pakistan and China must now make part of the journey by boat.

Still, China is upgrading the road, which enters the country near its western border in the restive and underdeveloped Xinjiang region. Long-term plans call for the addition of an oil pipeline. “We should have capitalized on the China opportunity far earlier. We had a highway into China in the 1980s. We could have had the first-mover advantage,” said Sakib Sherani, a former top Pakistani finance official. But Sherani insists that it is not too late: With China focused on developing its western regions, Gwadar and the Karakoram Highway could fit in perfectly with those plans. “There’s a much bigger business opportunity for us, if we can get our act together,” he said.

Zaman and others in Abbottabad, connected to the Chinese border via the highway’s vertiginous turns, certainly hope so. City leaders dream of the day when Chinese trucks come barreling down the road laden with cheap manufactured goods and head back bearing granite, precious stones and other minerals mined from the surrounding hills. “People will have job opportunities, business opportunities. And we’ll collect a lot of taxes,” said the white-bearded Zaman, who retired as mayor last year but remains a force in local politics. “Why do we like China? Because they don’t want to make Pakistanis slaves like the Americans do. They just want to do business.”

China and Pakistan’s Nuclear Bomb

China helped Pakistan develop nuclear weapons and missiles to carry them. Pakistan is believed have to received much of the technology and materials to build nuclear weapons from China. China supplied Pakistan with designs for a 25-kiloton bomb, a supply of weapons-grade uranium, tritium, heavy water, and key components for nuclear weapons production such as powerful ring magnets and a powerful industrial furnace used to produce weapons-grade uranium and plutonium. The Khushab Reactor, which produces plutonium, and the Chasma Plutonium reprocessing facility, which extracts plutonium from spent fuel, were built with Chinese assistance.

In 1984, Pakistan began producing enriched uranium at its nuclear facility at Kahuta. In the 1980s, Pakistan completed a computerized "cold test" of nuclear bombmaking technology but Pakistan needed help from China to make a glitch-free test bomb.

In the early 1980s, leading Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan obtained blueprints for a nuclear weapon that China had detonated on its forth nuclear test in 1966. The device was especially useful because it was relatively small and could easily be placed on the top of a missile. It is believed that Khan traded its centrifuge technoloy to the Chinese for their bomb designs. In 1987, Khan claims that Pakistan has a nuclear bomb. In 1992, the Pakistani government announced it has the know-how to build a nuclear bomb.

On May 28, 1998, Pakistan detonated five nuclear devices in response to the detonation of six nuclear devices by India two weeks earlier at a remote site in mountains and desert in the Chagai Hills in the Baluchistan region of western Pakistan near the Iranian border. The Pakistani government reported that the devices included one big bomb with a yield of 30 to 35 kilotons, making it twice as large as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, and the other four were small tactical devices intended for battlefield use.

Thomas Reed, an official in the Reagan administration, has asserted that China helped Pakistan a nuclear weapon in 1990. That is why the Pakistanis could respond so quickly when India tested it weapon in 1998. Their test was only 17 days after India’s. The Washington Post reported that China gave Pakistan weapons-grade uranium in 1982. In written accounts cited in the newspaper, Abdul Qadeer Kahn said China supplied a blueprint for a simple nuclear bomb that significantly sped up Pakistan’s nuclear weapon’s program. Khan wrote, “Upon my personal request, the Chinese minister..had gifted us 50 kilograms of weapons grade enriched uranium, enough for two weapons.” The statement came from a narrative Khan prepared for Pakistan intelligence after his January 2004 detention.

China Assists Pakistan in Making Its Nuclear Bombs

R. Jeffrey Smith and Joby Warrick wrote in the Washington Post, “In 1982, a Pakistani military C-130 left the western Chinese city of Urumqi with a highly unusual cargo: enough weapons-grade uranium for two atomic bombs, according to accounts written by the father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, and provided to The Washington Post. The uranium transfer in five stainless-steel boxes was part of a broad-ranging, secret nuclear deal approved years earlier by Mao Zedong and Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. U.S. officials say they have known about the transfer for decades and once privately confronted the Chinese---who denied it---but have never raised the issue in public or sought to impose direct sanctions on China for it.”[Source: R. Jeffrey Smith and Joby Warrick, Washington Post, November 13, 2009]

“According to Khan, the uranium cargo came with a blueprint for a simple weapon that China had already tested, supplying a virtual do-it-yourself kit that significantly speeded Pakistan's bomb effort. The transfer also started a chain of proliferation: U.S. officials worry that Khan later shared related Chinese design information with Iran; in 2003, Libya confirmed obtaining it from Khan's clandestine network.” [Ibid]

"Upon my personal request, the Chinese Minister . . . had gifted us 50 kg [kilograms] of weapon-grade enriched uranium, enough for two weapons," Khan wrote in a previously undisclosed 11-page narrative of the Pakistani bomb program that he prepared after his January 2004 detention for unauthorized nuclear commerce. "The Chinese gave us drawings of the nuclear weapon, gave us kg50 enriched uranium," he said in a separate account sent to his wife several months earlier. [Ibid]

“According to one of the documents, a five-page summary by Khan of his government's dealmaking with China, the terms of the nuclear exchange were set in a mid-1976 conversation between Mao and Bhutto. Two years earlier, neighboring India had tested its first nuclear bomb, provoking Khan---a metallurgist working at a Dutch centrifuge manufacturer---to offer his services to Bhutto.” [Ibid]

“Khan said he and two other Pakistani officials---including then-Foreign Secretary Agha Shahi, since deceased---worked out the details when they traveled to Beijing later that year for Mao's funeral. Over several days, Khan said, he briefed three top Chinese nuclear weapons officials---Liu Wei, Li Jue and Jiang Shengjie---on how the European-designed centrifuges could swiftly aid China's lagging uranium-enrichment program. China's Foreign Ministry did not respond to questions about the officials' roles. [Ibid]

“The United States was suspicious of Pakistani-Chinese collaboration through this period” but “were ignorant about key elements of the cooperation as it unfolded, according to current and former officials and classified documents,” R. Jeffrey Smith and Joby Warrick wrote in the Washington Post. “A secret State Department report in 1983 said Washington was aware that Pakistan had requested China's help, but "we do not know what the present status of the cooperation is," according to a declassified copy. Meanwhile, Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang promised at a White House dinner in January 1984: "We do not engage in nuclear proliferation ourselves, nor do we help other countries develop nuclear weapons." A nearly identical statement was made by China in a major summary of its nonproliferation policies in 2003 and on many occasions in between. [Ibid]

Abdul Qadeer Khan on Chinese Assistance to Pakistan in Making Its Nuclear Bombs

The Washington Post Post obtained Khan's detailed accounts from Simon Henderson, a former journalist at the Financial Times who is now a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and who has maintained correspondence with Khan. In a first-person account about his contacts with Khan in the Sept. 20 edition of the London Sunday Times, Henderson disclosed several excerpts from one of the documents. R. Jeffrey Smith and Joby Warrick wrote in the Washington Post, “Overall, the narratives portray his deeds as a form of sustained, high-tech international horse-trading, in which Khan and a series of top generals successfully leveraged his access to Europe's best centrifuge technology in the 1980s to obtain financial assistance or technical advice from foreign governments that wanted to advance their own efforts. [Source: R. Jeffrey Smith and Joby Warrick, Washington Post, November 13, 2009]

"The speed of our work and our achievements surprised our worst enemies and adversaries and the West stood helplessly by to see a Third World nation, unable even to produce bicycle chains or sewing needles, mastering the most advanced nuclear technology in the shortest possible span of time," Khan boasts in the 11-page narrative he wrote for Pakistani intelligence officials about his dealings with foreigners while head of a key nuclear research laboratory. [Ibid]

"Chinese experts started coming regularly to learn the whole technology" from Pakistan, Khan states, staying in a guesthouse built for them at his centrifuge research center. Pakistani experts were dispatched to Hanzhong in central China, where they helped "put up a centrifuge plant," Khan said in an account he gave to his wife after coming under government pressure. "We sent 135 C-130 plane loads of machines, inverters, valves, flow meters, pressure gauges," he wrote. "Our teams stayed there for weeks to help and their teams stayed here for weeks at a time." [Ibid]

In return, China sent Pakistan 15 tons of uranium hexafluoride (UF6), a feedstock for Pakistan's centrifuges that Khan's colleagues were having difficulty producing on their own. Khan said the gas enabled the laboratory to begin producing bomb-grade uranium in 1982. Chinese scientists helped the Pakistanis solve other nuclear weapons challenges, but as their competence rose, so did the fear of top Pakistani officials that Israel or India might preemptively strike key nuclear sites. [Ibid]

Mohammed Zia ul-Haq, the nation's military ruler, "was worried," Khan said, and so he and a Pakistani general who helped oversee the nation's nuclear laboratories were dispatched to Beijing with a request in mid-1982 to borrow enough bomb-grade uranium for a few weapons. After winning Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping's approval, Khan, the general and two others flew aboard a Pakistani C-130 to Urumqi. Khan says they enjoyed barbecued lamb while waiting for the Chinese military to pack the small uranium bricks into lead-lined boxes, 10 single-kilogram ingots to a box, for the flight to Islamabad, Pakistan's capital. [Ibid]

According to Khan's account, however, Pakistan's nuclear scientists kept the Chinese material in storage until 1985, by which time the Pakistanis had made a few bombs with their own uranium. Khan said he got Zia's approval to ask the Chinese whether they wanted their high-enriched uranium back. After a few days, they responded "that the HEU loaned earlier was now to be considered as a gift . . . in gratitude" for Pakistani help, Khan said. He said the laboratory promptly fabricated hemispheres for two weapons and added them to Pakistan's arsenal. Khan's view was that none of this violated the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty, because neither nation had signed it at the time and neither had sought to use its capability "against any country in particular." He also wrote that subsequent international protests reeked of hypocrisy because of foreign assistance to nuclear weapons programs in Britain, Israel and South Africa. [Ibid]

Pakistan Gives China Access to Secret American Helicopter

Pakistan gave China access to the previously unknown "stealth" helicopter that crashed during the commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May despite explicit requests from the CIA not to, the Financial Times reported on Sunday. During the raid, one of two modified Blackhawk helicopters, believed to employ unknown stealth capability, malfunctioned and crashed, forcing the commandos to abandon it. [Source: Reuters, August 14 2011]

Pakistan allowed Chinese intelligence officials to take pictures of the crashed chopper as well as take samples of its special "skin" that allowed the American raid to evade Pakistani radar, the newspaper reported. "The US now has information that Pakistan, particularly the ISI, gave access to the Chinese military to the downed helicopter in Abbottabad," the paper quoted a person "in intelligence as saying.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2012

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