Tuesday, June 21, 2011

China and Pakistan: Dangerous Liaisons

Pakistan’s relation with the US has been marked by an unprecedented low post the elimination of Osama Bin Laden in a US commando operation inside Pakistan. Amid these moments, Pakistan’s “time-tested and all-weather friend” China has been continuously expressing support for the country. Pakistan PM Yusuf Raza Gilani’s four-day official visit to China from May 17 to May 20 was a crucial event post the killing of Osama Bin Laden. On 17 May 2011, Beijing expressed its “unswervingly” support to Pakistan in its efforts to counter terrorism. The timing and nature of these words were intended to send a strong message to powers like the US and India.

During the visit, China agreed to expedite the delivery of 50 JF-17 fighter aircrafts, fully funded by China to boost Pakistan’s defence capability. Further negotiations are being undertaken for the supply of Chinese J-20 Stealth fighter and Xiaolong/FC-1 multi-purpose light fighter aircraft to Pakistan. This is yet another testament of the ever growing and strengthening alliance between China and Pakistan.

Following the visit, Pakistani Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar stated that Pakistan would be grateful to the Chinese government if a naval base was constructed at the site of Gwadar for Pakistan. China has a penchant for undertaking strategic moves surreptitiously and the naval base issue spilling out in public seemed to have embarrassed the Chinese government. Beijing unequivocally responded that the “issue was not touched upon.” Most of the aspects of Sino-Pak strategic cooperation materialize behind closed doors; therefore it becomes difficult to infer the exact nature and magnitude of their nexus.

The Sino-Pak cooperation is proving to be an imminent threat for India, even though the government tends to downplay it to a certain extent. But, it seems that the government is finally waking up to the threat. Recently India’s Defence Minister AK Antony while replying to a press question on the JF-17 deal between China and Pak said “It is a matter of serious concern for us. The main thing is, we have to increase our capability, that is the only answer”. India and China’s economic cooperation is on the rise, owing to which, many believe that the mutual dependencies between them is likely to keep a conflict at bay. However, while the economies flourish and there is stability in the strategic sphere, the undercurrents of suspicion and dilemma continue to affect the relations at the tactical front. The level of mistrust between India and China continues to be reinforced by the Chinese moves of constructing dams on the river Brahmaputra in Tibet. Many experts believe that the dams could reduce the flow of water in the river as it enters India. In addition China’s changing stance on Jammu and Kashmir, the issue of stapled visas, assistance in nuclear materials to Pakistan and its growing footprints in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) have kept Sino-India relations on tenterhooks. Chinese activities are posing considerable challenges not only along the LAC but also along the LoC with Pakistan. PoK is of immense strategic importance owing to its location. The Chinese continue to make inroads into the PoK region in order to gain strategic influence over the Islamic countries of West and Central Asia . It is important to note that the area of Indian Kashmir is 101,437 sq kms and the Kashmir area under Pakistan and China is 120,799 sq kms.

Reports about the presence of 11,000 Chinese construction workers and PLA combat engineers in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) tends to emerge periodically but no concrete moves are being undertaken to counter this rising threat. Pakistan seems to have outsourced the area of Gilgit-Baltistan to China for “developmental activities.” In May 2011, Indian intelligence agencies confirmed that the many hundreds of Chinese working in PoK are actually People's Liberation Army (PLA) engineers. They continue to verify whether the engineers are engaged in any type of military construction like bunkers. Such developments reinforce the Chinese pattern of using Pakistan in order to secure its interests in the region. Reports in the Pakistan media state that few deals (like a $2.2 billion Pakistan Steel with Metallurgical Corporation of China MCC) are non-transparent and Chinese companies are given contracts without open bidding.

As reported in The Hindu, the Government of Pakistan has allowed Chinese companies to take up construction work for large-scale power generation and tap power from the Jhelum and Neelum rivers. China is also involved in the widening of roads such as the Neelam Valley Roads (from Muzaffarabad to Athmuqam) and the Tariqabad Bypass (Eastern). It is also engaged in the construction of the Naluchi Bypass (Western) near Muzzafarabad. A major project also includes a Pakistan Rupee (PKR) 185.60 billion Neelum-Jhelum tunnel, which is being constructed by the China International Water and Electric Corporation (CIWEC). Through developmental projects, China is strengthening its alliance with Pakistan and gaining strategic influence in the region.

Another ambitious collaborated project by China and Pakistan is the laying of cross border Optical Fibre Cable (OFC) system at a cost of PKR 10 million between Pakistan and China for secure communications. The project would be funded out of a Chinese soft loan and consists of laying 820 km of OFC along the Karakoram Highway, from Rawalpindi to Khunjerab Pass (Chinese border via Mansehra, Chilas, Danyore (Gilgit), Karimabad and Sust). These measures are possibly being undertaken to support PLA troops stationed in Gilgit-Baltistan and PoK. Basing troops requires supporting infrastructure, communication and logistics nodes to be established. The laying of OFC lines would further establish Chinese claim and presence over PoK.

An IDSA report titled, “PoK: Changing the discourse,” stated that, “If the current pace of Chinese penetration is sustained then China may completely take over Gilgit-Baltistan by the year 2020.” Though Pakistan has always been a pivot of Chinese foreign policy, especially in South Asia, its importance in China’s grand strategy is likely to rise further. As the Indo-US relations gain further strength, China is strengthening its strategic cooperation with Pakistan to counter this strategic relationship. It will continue to use Pakistan as a proxy against India to keep the latter boxed in South Asia.

Aditi Malhotra is an Associate Fellow at the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi



The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) SPECIAL REPORT

Samarjit Ghosh , Aditi Malhotra , and Rohit Singh

For the complete text of the report, visit the link below:


Taking stock of Japan’s Nuclear Crisis

The Fukushima Dai’chi nuclear plant continues to remain the focus of the world’s attention as workers grapple with the probable meltdown in the power plant. The nuclear crisis at the Fukushima plant is a result of the earthquake, followed by the tsunami, which hit Japan on 11 March 2011, leading to massive human and infrastructure loss. The nuclear crisis is presently marked by three explosions in the Fukushima Dai’chi power plant (which consists of six boiling water reactors) after the cooling systems at different units failed, followed by the release of massive amounts of radioactive gas and food contamination. Over the years, Japan has become increasingly reliant on nuclear energy, though its nuclear safety record has not been very satisfactory and TEPCO, the organisation that constructed and operates the Fukushima Dai’chi plant, has had a checkered past as well. The country has seen some major nuclear accidents and subsequent cover-ups, leading to a degree of distrust among the Japanese public.

In 1999, an accident occurred at the Tokaimura plant when nuclear fuel was being prepared using enriched uranium; many workers were exposed to high levels of radiation in this accident. In 2004, at the Mihama Nuclear power plant, four workers were burnt to death and seven injured when a steam pipe burst in the non-radioactive part of the reactor. In 2002, the chairman and four other executives of TEPCO resigned, after they were suspected of having falsified safety records at TEPCO power stations. Additional instances of falsification were identified in 2006 and 2007.1 TEPCO is believed to have been involved in 29 cases related to damage in many parts of the reactor pressure vessel such as core shroud, jet pump, access hole cover, feed water spurger, on-core monitor housing and others. Consequently, the authorities had asserted the development of very high safety standards. The current nuclear crisis, however, belies these claims.

A question that comes up in the current context is the prudence of situating a nuclear power plant in low-lying land near the coast in proximity to a seismically unstable area. Some experts argue that the plant was placed near the coast primarily to use the seawater as coolant and dump the warmer water (post-cooling) in the sea. Another probable reason is the distance of these areas from densely populated regions. It is also important to note that the probability of a massive tsunami may not have been considered at the time when reactors at the Fukushima plant were being built between 1971 and 1979. New safety standards are not in consonance with the level of safety at Fukushima and the revision of seismic safety has been undertaken only three times in the past 35 years. Reportedly, TEPCO tested Units 1 and 2 for a magnitude of only 7.9 on the Richter scale.

Even more alarming is TEPCO’s track record with regard to the Fukushima plant. In 2006, the Japanese government ordered TEPCO to check past data after it reported finding falsification of coolant water temperatures at its Fukushima Daiichi plant in 1985 and 1988, and that the tweaked data was used in mandatory inspections at the plant, which were completed in October 2005.2 While carelessness or overlooking of nuclear safety has not resulted in the current nuclear disaster, it is rendering the crisis more unmanageable as days pass. In a recent report, TEPCO stated that during a scheduled inspection (2 weeks before the present disaster), it had failed to inspect 33 pieces of equipment in the six reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi complex. The equipments so ignored included a motor and a backup power generator for Unit 1.3

Another issue with regard to the Fukushima crisis is the case of secrecy and the government’s inhibition in sharing information. While the nuclear emergency has been a cause of worldwide concern, public and international organisations like the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are becoming increasingly vocal about their frustration with the information delay. Many experts have stated that the Japanese authorities, particularly TEPCO, are downplaying the severity of the event, especially on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES).4 Japan had rated the current crisis at scale 4 till March 18 and raised it to scale 5, which is lower in comparison to the IAEA rating of scale 6. The scale 6 level puts the Fukushima events in the league of the Mayak Nuclear Power plant explosion in the erstwhile USSR in 1957, which resulted in a radioactive cloud spreading over hundreds of miles and causing at least 200 cancer deaths.5

Additionally, while Japan has declared a 20-30 km exclusion zone from the Fukushima plant, other nations (specifically, Australia, US, and Britain) have recommended an 80 km exclusion zone. The downplaying of the event by the Japanese authorities continues to be a cause of concern. TEPCO is failing to provide accurate and timely information so much so that on March 15 Prime Minister Naoto Kan admonished the utility officials for the delay in informing him about the fire in reactor No. 1.6 TEPCO has done this in the past as well, when it has delayed providing information or worse falsifying it. The case of cracks in the Fukushima plant in 1993 and 1994, which were downplayed by the authorities, deserves special mention. Cracks were detected in the core shroud at Units 1 and 4 at Fukushima Dai’chi in 1993 and cracks in the middle part of the shroud were detected at Unit 2 in 1994. The magnitude of the cracks in Unit 2 turned out to be far greater and more serious than what was stated in TEPCO’s official reports. Additionally, cracks were found in each shroud of Units 1, 3 and 5, which were covered up by the authorities.7

Tracing the developments in Fukushima, some commentators have concluded that nuclear energy is too risky to be pursued further and this incident should be a trigger to boost the anti-nuclear debate. While such a stance is plausible, realistically, the world is not likely to witness a nuclear-free environment in the near future. Also, no amount of hysteria will force governments to shut down reactors that have been operating for years. The dangers of a Fukushima-like-disaster are unlikely to discourage countries like China, Pakistan, India, Iran and US. Consequently, it remains important to focus on improving the safety and security of nuclear power plants.

1. Richard Black, “Uncertainty surrounds Japan's nuclear picture”, BBC News, 12 March 2011, accessed at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/mobile/world-12723092
2. Jonathan Thatcher, “Japan's nuclear power operator has checkered past”, Reuters, 12 March 2011, accessed at http://us.mobile.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSTRE72B1B420110312
3. “Stricken nuke plant missed scheduled inspections”, ABC News, 21 March 2011, accessed at http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2011/03/21/3169841.htm
4. 'Very serious' situation at Fukushima plant, RTE News, 16 March 2011, accessed at http://www.rte.ie/news/2011/0316/japan.html
5. Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, “Japan Reactor Emergency Passes Three Mile Island on Scale of Nuclear Disasters”, AllGov, 17 March 2011, accessed at http://www.allgov.com/Top_Stories/ViewNews/Japan_Reactor_Emergency_Passes_Three_Mile_Island_on_Scale_of_Nuclear_Disasters_110317
6. Mehul Srivastava and Shigeru Sato, “Conflicting Information Drives Anxiety in Japan Nuclear Crisis”, Bloomberg, 17 March 2011, accessed at http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-03-17/conflicting-information-drives-anxiety-in-japan-nuclear-crisis.html
7. Revelation of Endless N-damage Cover-ups, Citizens' Nuclear Information Center, accessed at http://cnic.jp/english/newsletter/nit92/nit92articles/nit92coverup.html

SOURCE: IDSA COMMENT http://www.idsa.in/idsacomments/TakingstockofJapansNuclearCrisis_amalhotra_220311