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Indo-US Nuclear Deal: Beijing Harps on US ‘containment’ Theory

While the Party and State- controlled media in China have so far confined themselves to giving a factual account of the trust vote in New Delhi on the nuclear deal with the US, an authoritative and well-connected strategic affairs journal in Chinese language, has chosen to come out with a prompt independent comment on the subject. Appearing at a time when there are expectations of Beijing’s support to India’s case in the Nuclear suppliers Group (NSG), what has been said in the comment assumes significance.

The commentary, under the caption “ India extends hand, the US is to hold”, written by “Zhan Lue” (“Strategy” in English), ostensibly by a high level party cadre, has remarked (China Institute of International Strategic Studies, Beijing, Chinese language Online Edition, 23 July 2008) that the deal which was being considered almost dead due to the opposition coming from the ‘anti-American’ communist groups supporting the ‘Centrist government’, could be rescued by Prime Minister Singh through his act of ‘adventure and courage’; he could replace the erstwhile support of the communist groups with that of ‘regional small parties”. With the Prime Minister winning the trust vote in the Indian Parliament on 22 July 2008, a question, which remains, is whether the deal can now successfully go through the political process in the US. The write-up admitted that several legal questions may confront the deal in the US, but at the same time felt that the US Congress should be able to find time to express support for the deal, as overall it suits Washington’s interests.

“Zhan Lue” has further observed that New Delhi’s nuclear explosion in 1974 resulted in a stop to the Indo-US nuclear cooperation; but the time has changed now. The writer listed the following as constituents of the President Bush’s logic behind the US nuclear deal with India:

  1. The advantages of the US-India Strategic Partnership outweigh the risks which were perceived as per Washington’s old policy towards New Delhi,

  2. Availability of clean nuclear energy to India through the deal, can contribute to India’s capacity to reduce green house gas emissions.

  3. Unlike Pakistan, India’s nuclear weapon programme has not led to any proliferation

  4. Most important factor is that India is a democratic nation with common values and common interests with the US – contain china and resist Islamic terrorism.

  5. Worth paying attention is that India’s recycling of nuclear material will come under more and more international supervision as a result of the deal.

The Chinese strategist has nevertheless visualized worries to the US. Firstly, the deal can erode into the US aggressive open stand that if India is to carry out further nuclear tests, it will cut nuclear supplies to India. Next, Washington may have to worry about India’s economic relations and military contact with Iran. Lastly, New Delhi’s traditional habit of displaying a ‘non-alignment’ attitude towards American interests may also be of concern to Washington. On the other hand, the US could also feel ‘hopeful’, as to get closer to Washington, the Indian Prime Minister has successfully discarded the communists, triggering relaxation in the conditions concerning the deal. Zhan Lue has added that a refusal by the US Congress to endorse the deal, can not only lead to New Delhi’s dissatisfaction, but also to India’s approach to France and Russia for procuring 25000 MW of nuclear power, taking advantage of the permission to it accruing from the IAEA and NSG for buying nuclear material and technology. In the conclusion of the analyst, the ball is to move into the court of the US Congress.


What looks significant is the reappearance, after some gap, of Chinese media criticisms on the US intentions to contain China through its nuclear deal with India. In the past, publications in China had accused the US of adopting a ‘double standard’ in signing the deal; a message was given on one occasion that Beijing might like to conclude similar pacts with friendly nations. An analysis (People’s Daily, 30 August 2007) criticized India by name with the remark that the desire of Washington is to enclose India into the camp of its global partners and that fits exactly with India’s wishes.

In contrast, Beijing’s apparent signals at diplomatic levels have been circumspect on the deal. The cautious statements of the PRC Foreign Ministry officials welcoming civil nuclear cooperation between nations keeping in view the non-proliferation interests, have given rise to Indian optimism on China supporting India’s case in the NSG. China’s offer to India for civil nuclear cooperation, made for the first time, has by implication been positively interpreted by Indian officials. During recent India-China leadership meetings, signs have been available to suggest Beijing’s stance favourable to India.

One has to take a composite view of the seemingly contradictory perspectives of Chinese strategists and the government on the Indo-US nuclear deal. In reality, however, they are two components of the same Chinese policy – one to suit strategic interests and the other based on tactical factors. Under the former, the US is looked upon by China, as a potential threat and China would like to keep India outside the US influence. Tactically, China needs friendship with the US and India in the present stage to guarantee its “peaceful development’. Beijing’s support to New Delhi in the NSG, if it comes, needs to be seen in such tactical context. But China is expected to maintain a careful watch on whether the deal can lead to strengthening of India’s nuclear weapon programme at a level capable of competing with China or threatening its ally Pakistan. What stand Beijing will adopt to the reported objections of Pakistan on approval of the Indian nuclear safeguards agreement in the IAEA, particularly based on its perceived arms race in the region, is likely to generate great interest in India.

(The writer, Mr D.S.Rajan, is the Director, Chennai Centre for China Studies,India. Email:

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