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Resources on India and Pakistan

China and the Nuclear Tests in South Asia


China is now facing a new and potentially more dangerous security environment. It's nuclear neighbors have doubled following the nuclear tests of Pakistan and India in the South,  joining Russia in the North. Chinese officials blame India for initiating the crisis in South Asia while Pakistan remains one of China's oldest and most powerful allies in Asia.  However, despite China's harsh rhetoric, the PRC has not openly sided with Pakistan against India. Rather, China states that  it is mainly concerned with the negative impact of the tests on global nuclear nonproliferation efforts, and Beijing views the tests as a direct threat to regional stability and Chinese security. Accordingly, China has expressed its displeasure with both India and Pakistan for their nuclear tests.  On 4 June, the Chinese ambassador to the United Nations, Qin Huasun, in a statement referring to the United Nations Security Council communiqué on nuclear testing by India and Pakistan called on India and Pakistan "to exercise restraint, stop all further nuclear tests, abandon their nuclear weapons development programs, be committed to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty immediately and unconditionally."  Qin also stated that "the resolution adopted by the Security Council this morning has fully confirmed the importance of the two treaties and the determination of the international community to continue to adhere to the treaties, and made corresponding demand of the two countries in explicit terms.  This is extremely right and necessary thing to do."["China Urges India, Pakistan to Abandon Nuclear Weapons Development Programs,"  Chinese Embassy, 6 June 1998.]

Furthermore, the tests may have prompted China to revisit its nuclear and missile cooperation with Pakistan. In addition, the recent tests may lend further justification for the development of China's own nuclear weapons program.

China's Reaction to India's Nuclear Tests

On 11 May 1998, India conducted three nuclear tests at India's Pokhran test site in the remote Thar Desert. The three devices exploded were a normal fission bomb, a low-yield bomb possibly for tactical battlefield use, and something similar to a hydrogen bomb. The total yield of atomic power was about 80 kilotons. India then conducted two additional tests of smaller, sub-kiloton yield on 13 May 1998. ["Nukes . . . They're Back," Time, 25 May 1998, pp.34-42.] Indian officials have claimed that the tests were a matter of national security, a precaution against Pakistan's nuclear development and a deterrent to China's growing military power.

Although relations between India and China had steadily improved since a 1993 agreement to reduce border tensions, they became strained even in the period before the nuclear tests. In early 1998 India's Defense Minister George Fernandes accused Chinese patrols of intruding into Indian territory. ["India Tests Destabilize Peace," China Daily, 20 May 1998.] In a speech in early May, Fernandes stated that China was encircling India with alliances with Pakistan and Myanmar, as well as missile and naval deployments of suspicious intent. "China has its nuclear weapons stockpiled in Tibet right along India's borders," he said. Likewise, Chinese military airfields in Tibet had been extended in the last six months, and "there was a lot of naval activity" off the coast of Myanmar. "To underplay the situation across the Himalayas is not in the national interest; in fact, it can create a lot of problems for us in the future." Quoting from a 1996 report by the Indian parliamentary standing committee on defense, Fernandes stated: "Despite warming relationships with China, China is and is likely to remain the primary security challenge to India in the medium and long-term. Its enhancement of missile capability and its immense help to Pakistan in the missile program are of serious security concerns to India." Fernandes further asserted that China was India's "potential threat number one" and that if a strategic review of India's situation merits it, India should "exercise the nuclear option." ["Fernandes Sounds Warning on China, Hong Kong Standard, 5 May 1998; "China 'Greatest Threat to India,'" Financial Times, 5 May 1998; "India's New Defense Chief Sees Chinese Military Threat," New York Times, 5 May 1998; "India Defence Minister Says China a Threat," Reuters, 18 May 1998.]

On 12 May following the Indian nuclear tests, the Chinese Foreign Ministry stated: "The Chinese government is seriously concerned about the nuclear tests conducted by India," and that the tests "run counter to the current international trend and are not conducive to peace and stability in South Asia." ["China is 'Seriously Concerned' But Restrained in Its Criticism," New York Times, 13 May 1998.] On 13 May, the Chinese government announced that it was "shocked and strongly condemned" the Indian nuclear tests and called for the international community to "adopt a unified stand and strongly demand that India immediate stop development of nuclear weapons." [Reuters, 13 May 1998.] China also rejected as "totally unreasonable" India's stated rationale that it needs nuclear capabilities to counter a Chinese threat. "This gratuitous accusation by India against China is solely for [the] purpose of finding excuses for the development of its nuclear weapons." ["India's Nuclear Tests Show Fear of China," Wall Street Journal, 15 May 1998, p.A13.] Moreover, in a meeting with Masayoshi Takemura, leader of the Shinto Sakigake of Japan, Chinese Vice-Premier Qian Qichen was quoted as saying that India's nuclear tests were a "serious matter," particularly because they were conducted in light of the fact that more than 140 countries have signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. "It is even more unacceptable that India claims to have conducted the tests to counter what it called a 'China threat,'" he said. ["Qian Qichen Meets Masayoshi Takemura, Says International Condemnation of India's Nuclear Tests is Entirely Justified," People's Daily, 20 May 1998.]

In addition to official condemnation of the nuclear tests, the Chinese public was also critical of India. China Daily reported that a nationwide survey conducted by the Social Survey Institute of China under the State Statistics Bureau, revealed that eighty-nine percent of the people surveyed strongly criticized India for the tests, and eighty percent agreed that the United Nations should place sanctions on India to forestall any further nuclear threat. ["India's Tests Shocking: Poll," China Daily, 16 May 1998.]

China also voiced its concerns directly to the Indian government.Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao said that the PRC, during low-level border negotiations with India on 8-9 June, criticized India for using alleged security threats from the PRC to justify its nuclear tests. Zhu stated, "The Chinese side pointed out that recently Indian leaders repeatedly issued remarks slandering China, seriously hurting the feelings of the Chinese people and undermining the sound atmosphere for improving bilateral relations." He added that "the Chinese side strongly urged the Indian side to immediately stop all unwarranted accusations against China and act concretely" to improve relations.

Indian embassy spokesman Krishan Varma responded that India's negotiators did not trade condemnations and that their PRC counterparts were not wholly unwilling to discuss the issues of resolving the disputed boundary and easing tensions on the border. Varma stated, "It is really not a question of accepting allegations of the so-called slander statements. They had their statement, and we urged them to continue making progress." ["China Lectures India for Using it to Justify Nuclear Tests," Associated Press, 11 June 1998.]

In condemning India, China also singled out India's defense minister, George Fernandes, accusing him of recklessly using Beijing as an excuse for New Delhi's nuclear tests and warning of the terrible consequences of such words. "If this arrogant bluster and military expansionism is not effectively checked, the consequences will not even bear thinking about," reported the Liberation Army Daily. "As a figure with a disreputable name who holds strong ideas of big-India chauvinism, Fernandes has consistently and publicly advocated great-nation chauvinism and continuously upheld an anti-China stance." The newspaper said Fernandes had slandered China by saying that Beijing had helped Myanmar install surveillance equipment on some islands in the Bay of Bengal. The Chinese Foreign Ministry also blasted Fernandes. According to a ministry spokesman, "India's defense minister has time and again attacked China for no reason over this problem, seeking an excuse for the nuclear tests and military build-up. These kind of words [which] recklessly disrupt Sino-Indian ties have of course met with strong resistance from the Chinese people and have drawn a chorus of rebuke from all circles in India." [Scott Hillis, "China Hits out at Indian Defense Minister," Reuters, 5 June 1998.]

China continued to express its displeasure with India even into late 1998.  In an interview with a group of American reporters in November 1998, Chinese embassy officials in New Delhi stated that nuclear weapons in South Asia are destabilizing and undermine deterrence. The embassy officials stated:

    "But regrettably, India conducted nuclear tests last May, which has run against the contemporary historical trend and seriously affected peace and stability in South Asia.  Pakistan also conducted nuclear tests later on.  India's nuclear tests have not only led to the escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan and provocation of nuclear tests have not only led to the escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan and provocation of nuclear arms races in South Asia, but also dealt a heavy blow to international nuclear disarmament and the global nonproliferation regime.  It is only natural that India's nuclear tests have met with extensive condemnation and aroused serious concern from the international community.["India-China Claim 'active approach,'" The Hindu, 24 November 1998.]
The continuing diplomatic tension resulted in the cancellation of the Sino-Indian joint working group in November 1998 due to a failure to resolve their differences on the meeting's agenda.  China had asked India to apologize for using it as a pretext to conduct its nuclear tests while India had requested the meeting focus on the Sino-Indian border dispute and the transfer of nuclear and missile technology to Pakistan.   It was the first time in 10 years that the joint working group meeting had been cancelled.[Bedi, Rahul, "New Tensions Halt India-China Talks, Jane's Defence Weekly, 23 December 1998.]

Even though China has harshly criticized India, its actions have been more moderate.  While the United States and Japan led the international community in imposing sanctions against India in response to its nuclear test, China did not impose any sanctions on India or Pakistan. Although it did reportedly state that it could stop nuclear fuel sales to India's four nuclear power reactors at Tarapur. ["Reaction of US Allies," ABC News, 13 May 1998.]

Chinese President Jiang Zemin said that although India "targeted" China with its nuclear tests, China would not resume its own nuclear testing program. Jiang noted that India has "aspired for a long period of time to be the main power of South Asia," but "China has no intention of restarting its nuclear tests." He continued, "The tensions in South Asia must be firmly blamed on India." Jiang said he was surprised by the tests, which clearly showed that "India is targeting China and Pakistan." While China reacted strongly to the Indian tests and stated its total opposition to all nuclear testing, its reaction to the Pakistan tests has been only one of regret, indicating the close links between Beijing and Islamabad. "China hopes that Pakistan will not respond and will make a wise decision. But the Pakistani government is faced with strong public pressure on the subject," Jiang said. Jiang denied Indian allegations that Pakistan developed nuclear weapons through cooperation with China, and said their cooperation was entirely for peaceful ends and conformed with all international accords on the subject. ["India Targeting China with Nuclear Tests: Jiang Zemin," AFP, 3 June 1998.]

China has also sought to cooperate with the US to resolve the South Asia nuclear crisis.  Discussions during the US-Sino Summit in June 1998 led to a Joint Statement on South Asia which detailed the common beliefs of both China and the US.  The statement, in part, read:

 "The P-5 Joint Communiqué of June 4, which was endorsed by UN Security Council Resolution 1172, sets out clear and comprehensive objectives and a plan for action to address the threat of a South Asian nuclear and missile arms race.  We pledge our full support for the steps outlined in the Joint Communiqué, and again call on India and Pakistan to stop further nuclear tests and adhere immediately and unconditionally to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), to refrain from weaponization or deployment of nuclear weapons, and from the testing or deployment of missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, and to enter into the firm commitment not to weaponize or deploy nuclear weapons or the missiles capable of delivering them."
"China and the United States remain firmly committed to strong and effective international cooperation on nuclear nonproliferation, with the NPT as its cornerstone, we will continue to bolster global nuclear non-proliferation efforts, and reiterate that our goal is adherence of all countries, including India and Pakistan, to the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) as it stands, without any modification.  States that do not adhere to the Treaty cannot expect to be accorded the same benefits and international standing as are accorded to NPT parties.  Notwithstanding their recent nuclear tests, India and Pakistan do not have the status of nuclear weapons states in accordance with the NPT."[Sino-US Joint Statement on South Asia, 27 June 1998, Chinese Embassy website]
Yet since the 1998 US-China summit, China has remained concerned about the potential US recognition of India as a nuclear weapon state.  Sha Zukang, the head of the Chinese Foreign Ministry's Department of Arms Control and Disarmament, commented on the this in a January 1999 speech at an international nonproliferation conference in Washington, DC.  Sha stated:
    "First, the international community should have the patience and perseverance and should not lose hope because of the lack of progress in the short run.  Second, the international community, especially the major powers, must have a consensus view and take concerted actions on this matter.  A robust international nonproliferation  regime is in the interests of all countries.  If any country seeks to exploit the South Asian situation  to obtain unilateral short-term political, economic or strategic benefits at the expense of the other countries and  international solidarity and in total disregard of the serious consequences the South Asian nuclear testing has had on the international nonproliferation regime, it can only further undermine the already badly damaged international nonproliferation regime, and in the end, the long-term interests of that country will also be jeopardized.  It is a direct violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1172 to negotiate, or even to discuss, with India on India's so-called minimum nuclear deterrence capability.  It is also unhelpful to publicly support India's permanent membership in the UN Security Council soon after its nuclear tests.  It is obvious that these actions will not help in repairing the damage caused by the South Asian nuclear tests to the international nuclear nonproliferation regime." [Carnegie Endowment Speech, January 1999.]
However, by February 1999 China and India appeared to be trying to reconcile their differences.  At a Sino-Indian relations seminar in New Delhi, China's Ambassador to India Zhou Gang stated that "China is full of sincerity and confidence in developing its relations with India.  We believe that it is also the aspiration of the Indian people."  The ambassador also emphasized that China was not involved in Pakistan's nuclear and missile programs and that "all co-operation between between China and Pakistan in the field of nuclear energy is under the International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards."  In fact, Ambassador Zhou noted that China was aware of India's concerns about China's nuclear and missile assistance to Pakistan and had taken "a positive, flexible and pragmatic approach and made proper readjustments of certain policies concerned."["PRC Envoy: China Hopes to Develop Good Bilateral Ties," The Hindustan Times, 26 February 1999 in FBIS 26 February 1999 and "Chinese Envoy: China Not 'Threat' to India," Deccan Herald (Internet Version), 27 February 1999 in FBIS 27 February 1999.]

As a further indication that Sino-Indian ties are improving, in late April 1999 China and India  held their first Joint Working Group meeting in  20 months. The meeting avoided the main issues, such as the border dispute, India's nuclear tests and China's nuclear and missile assistance to Pakistan and instead focused on development of "friendly, good neighborly relations."  One Indian diplomat noted that further political initiatives would be needed to resume friendly ties with Beijing. [Bedi, Rahul. "China, India resume JWG talks finally." Jane's Defence Weekly. 12 May 1999. p. 15.

China's Reaction to Pakistan's Nuclear Tests

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shamshad Ahmed met with Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan in Beijing on 18-20 May 1998. According to Foreign Minister Ahmed: "The special focus of our consultations was the current regional situation that has arisen as a result of India' irresponsible actions in carrying out five nuclear tests. I shared with our Chinese friends our preoccupation, our perception and assessment of the situation, which poses a great threat no only to regional peace and stability but also to the overall peace and stability of the world." ["Pakistani Envoy Sees Eye to Eye with China," Reuters, 19 May 1998.] It was reported that the Pakistani delegation had hoped to obtain a guarantee of nuclear protection from China should India attack, and that this would help persuade Pakistan to refrain from conducting its own nuclear tests. However, Chinese officials downplayed the meeting, calling it a "routine consultation between our two foreign ministries." ["Chinese Delegation Seems to Deny Pakistan a Nuclear Umbrella," New York Times, 21 May 1998.] At the Chinese Foreign Ministry's regular briefing on 19 May 1998, questions about whether China encouraged Pakistan to refrain from conducting its own nuclear tests went unanswered, as did questions regarding China's defending Pakistan from a nuclear attack and how China would react to nuclear tests by Pakistan. Instead, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao condemned India for undermining efforts to ban nuclear testing. "The overriding issue for the international community is to concentrate on adopting a decisive and clear-cut position against India to prompt it to give up its nuclear program. Only in this way can the security environment of Pakistan and other South Asian nations be improved," he said. [Roger Wilkinson, "China/Pakistan," Voice of America, 19 May 1998.]

Upon his return from Beijing, Foreign Minister Ahmed announced that he had been assured that China would not impose economic sanctions should Pakistan conduct a nuclear test. ["Chinese Delegation Seems to Deny Pakistan a Nuclear Umbrella," New York Times, 21 May 1998.] When asked by reporters whether China had also asked Pakistan not to go nuclear, Ahmed said: "China has not asked us to do anything which is not in our national interest." ["Pakistan, China Slate India's Reckless Action," Dawn (Islamabad), 21 May 1998.]

However, the Associated Press reported that at President Clinton's urging, Chinese leader Jiang Zemin did send a letter to the Pakistani government before the nuclear tests urging restraint. The Chinese Foreign Ministry declined comment on the letter.  ["China Urged Pakistani Restraint," Associated Press, 29 May 1998.]

On 28 May 1998, Chinese spokesman Zhu Bangzao, just hours before Pakistan's tests, was again asked if Beijing supported or opposed a nuclear test by Pakistan. He made it clear that China believed India was responsible for the nuclear crisis in South Asia. ''The current situation in South Asia was created solely by India. India, in disregard of strong international opposition, brazenly conducted nuclear tests and threatened its neighbours." He restated that "the most pressing matter for the international community now is to act together to immediately demand that India abandon its plan to develop  nuclear weapons and change its mistaken stance. Only in this way can the security concerns of this region be fundamentally resolved." ["China Blames India for Rising Tensions," Inside China Today, 28 May 1998; "China: India Responsible for Regional Tension," Lateline News, 28 May 1998.]

After Pakistan conducted its own tests and detonated five underground nuclear devices, Chinese reaction was swift. According to Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao:

    "China expresses its deep regret over Pakistan's nuclear test today. China has always advocated the complete prohibition and thorough destruction of nuclear weapons and is opposed to any form of nuclear weapon proliferation. The Chinese government  is deeply worried about this and feels uneasy about the present nuclear race in South Asia. We hereby call on countries concerned in South Asia to exercise the utmost restraint and to immediately abandon all nuclear weapons development programs to avoid a further worsening of the situation and for the sake of peace and stability in the South Asian region." ["China Says Regrets Pakistan Nuke Tests," Lateline News, 28 May 1998; "Pakistan Evens Nuclear Account: Sharif," China Daily, 29 May 1998.]
In addition, on 29 May China supported a UN Security Council resolution that "strongly deplores" the nuclear tests by Pakistan. The council had initially met in a late night session on 28 May to discuss this issue; however, the Chinese ambassador reportedly indicated he had yet to receive "clearance to support the statement from his superiors in Beijing." ["UN Security Council 'Deplores' Pakistan's Tests," CNN, 29 May 1998.]

Despite China's criticism of Pakistan's nuclear tests, in his nationally televised speech following the nuclear tests, Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif praised China for its support during "this hour of crisis" and said Pakistan was proud of its great neighbour. ["Account Evened with India, Says PM: Pakistan Opts to Go Nuclear," Dawn, 29 May 1998.]

Xinhua News Agency reported that in the first direct telephone talk between Clinton and Jiang Zemin since the establishment of the hotline between the US and Chinese governments, the two leaders "maintained that the international community should make combined efforts to bring peace, security and stability to South Asia and to promote the realization of a nuclear weapons-free region." ["Nuclear Tests Throw Spotlight on US-China Summit," CNN, 31 May 1998; "Presidents Confer by Phone on South Asia," China Daily, 1 June 1998.]

For more on China and South Asia, see:



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