Could China's plan to help Pakistan build nuclear power plants be the first of many pacts in the region?
China's agreement to help Pakistan build two nuclear power plants is prompting warnings that the new US-India civilian nuclear deal is already pushing other countries to pursue their own nuclear relationships.
The concern among South Asia experts and nonproliferation advocates is that the American deal allowing India to pursue an expanded civilian nuclear program with limited safeguards is prompting other countries in a volatile region to seek a similar deal – something the US had said would not happen.
"You can't help but hear about China supplying Pakistan with nuclear power plants and see it as a reaction to the US-India deal," says Michael Krepon, a South Asia nuclear proliferation expert at the Henry L. Stimson Center in Washington. "Pakistan is desperate for energy, as is India, but there are lower-cost and shorter-timeline options for producing it, so there is something else going on here and in the Middle East."
That "something else" – whether a result of Iran pursuing a nuclear program it claims is peaceful or Saudi Arabia talking nuclear power with the US – is a regional scramble to counterbalance the nuclear plans of often untrusted neighbors. In the case of Pakistan, it's the pursuit of a counterweight to offset the expanding US-India strategic partnership – particularly in the nuclear realm – through a similar, though less ambitious, partnership with China.
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