Much in contrast to the position of the United States (reaffirmed by President Barack Obama in 2015) that India does, in fact, meet the missile technology control regime (MTCR) requirements and is ready for membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), China, once again, has flashed the all so familiar Pakistan bogey, in an attempt to stall India’s NSG membership, notwithstanding the iniquitous and illicit China-Pakistan nuclear and missile nexus kick-started during the decade of the 1980s. China’s nuclear and missile-related proliferation activities that ran across Asia, directly, and indirectly, have caused irretrievable alteration of South Asia’s strategic balance and scenario.
It is nothing short of a paradox that China and Pakistan, with their much blemished record on non-proliferation, are attempting to block India’s bid to gain NSG membership—a body primarily tasked for reducing nuclear proliferation by controlling the export and re-transfer of materials used to make weapons. Acknowledging that Pakistan latched onto China to stall India’s NSG bid, Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan’s foreign affairs adviser to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has recently accepted so in as many terms.
Perhaps the most disquieting development is that China’s covert nuclear and missile assistance and transfers to Pakistan continue till date. The selling of outdated and untested ACC-1000 nuclear reactors (Hualong-1) that China has yet to build at home has come under international scanner. State-owned China National Nuclear Cooperation has found the perfect “testing ground” to practice and gain experience at building nuclear power plants abroad, though, falling far short of international nuclear safety standards. In fact, a Pakistani nuclear physicist has branded Islamabad as becoming a “guinea pig” for China’s nuclear experiments.
Besides, in another major development, the test-launch and display of the medium-range Shaheen-3 surface-to-surface ballistic missile, capable of carrying nuclear and conventional warheads, within a range of 2,750 km, has put the spotlight back on the China-Pakistan missile collaboration. Pakistan claims that Shaheen-3 is capable of striking targets across India including the Northeast and the first Tri-Service Command located in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
The vehicle that transports, and eventually launches missiles is called a transporter-erector-launcher (TEL). In case of the Shaheen-3 missile, the TEL identically matches a Chinese design that Beijing had exported to North Korea in 2011. Key components of TELs typically include chassis (a sturdy flexible undercarriage of the vehicle), specialised hydraulics for erecting and launching the missile, and systems to control the pressure of the tires to protect the missile on varied terrain. The Chinese, North Korean and Pakistani TELs have been identified to be sharing identical chassis slope, foothold shape, and exhaust processing system over the engine compartment. American analyst Richard Fisher made this assertion and stated that if established—it would make ground to call for fresh sanctions against China at the United Nations, and further enforcement of existing US sanctions. Subsequently, the clamour regarding the displayed TEL for Shaheen-3 has grown in US government corridors with letters being dispatched to Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and the Director of US National Intelligence.
It should be recalled that North Korean missile aspirations began many decades ago with the production of a Chinese Type 63 multiple rocket launcher and the supply of the HY-1 naval missiles from Beijing to Pyongyang. Further, six Chinese TELs showed up in downtown Pyongyang on 15 April 2012. North Korea has a history of acquiring demilitarised vehicles and thereafter adapting them. It has been well documented that North Korea procures chassis from abroad given that they are too expensive and complex to produce indigenously.
Linkages in this reference can be traced between Wanshan, a company based in Xiaogan, in the easternmost part of central China’s Hubei Province. Wanshan remains under control of the 9th Academy of state-owned China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC). Known for producing specialty vehicles and chassis for civilian and military applications, records of the Information Bureau of Yuan’an County have shown that Wanshan traded with North Korea as of 2009, however, does not specifically disclose the type of trade that occurred. Wanshan remains critical because it produces WS-series vehicles for use as TELs that are used by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
It is about time that China be questioned and castigated for spinning an unlawful nuclear and missile web throughout Asia for more than three decades, which shall continue to haunt Asian security and stability for a long time ahead. Beijing should work towards contributing to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and technology by means of the NSG, rather than putting spokes for India as it prepares to join the NSG club only because that suits China’s regional strategic objective of keeping India confined regionally.