On 3 January, Monday, the nuclear-armed P5 countries that comprise the United Nations Security Council—the United States, Russia, France, UK and China—pledged “that nuclear weapons should serve defensive purposes, deter aggression, and prevent war”. In the statement issued, the five countries also speak of the importance of “preserving and complying with our bilateral and multilateral non-proliferation, disarmament, and arms control agreements and commitments”. Noble sentiments, but ironic, given the world’s biggest proliferator is a signatory to the 3 January 2022 proclamation—China. Like with so many other things, including pushing the world to death’s doors by spreading the coronavirus and then not allowing a neutral investigation into it, China is getting away with “murder” here too. Of course, in the case of coronavirus, it is literally murder. China’s track record as a nuclear non-proliferator has always been dubious, and one of the two biggest manifestations of this is sitting in India’s neighbourhood—Pakistan. The other one is in Japan’s neighbourhood—North Korea. These are the two Chinese proxies “deployed” by Beijing to contain India and Japan, its two biggest rivals/enemies. That Pakistan and North Korea are nuclear rogues is because of China. It is an open secret that Chinese entities have been presiding over what is described by some analysts as the “nuclear silk road”, where Pyongyang and Islamabad/Rawalpindi are major stops. And from there, the knowhow travels to countries intent on getting the technology.
PRC entities have several times faced the wrath of the US for violating the non-proliferation commitments Beijing has made, a case in point being the “Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA)” sanctions of 2016, where a Chinese individual, Li Fangwei, also known as Karl Lee, was sanctioned for being “involved in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction-related technology to Iran”. On 22 May 2019, the US State Department’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, @StateISN, tweeted about “China’s weak export control system” which allows entities like Karl Lee to use “cover companies, aliases and personas…to continue his proliferation”. Conveniently, China fails “to take action to bring #LiFangwei (#KarlLee) to justice”, the Bureau tweeted. On 25 November 2020, the State Department sanctioned two Chinese entities, Chengdu Best New Materials Co Ltd and Zibo Elim Trade Co, Ltd “for transferring sensitive technology and items to Iran’s missile program”, along with two Russian companies.
According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS) report on “Chinese Nuclear and Missile Proliferation” (updated May 2021), China has a long history of exporting “nuclear materials” to other countries, in fact right through the 1980s and 1990s—the latter, in spite of acceding to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1992. Officially, even though it has been “cooperating” with the US in the latter’s efforts to stop proliferation, and even though the PRC government, apparently, may no longer be directly involved in proliferation activities, several questions exist. The CRS report quotes a 2017 interview given by then US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Vann Van Diepen to Politico as saying that even if proliferation is not directly state-sponsored, “China hasn’t devoted the priority, effort, or resources to thwart… When that continues to be the case over 20 years, even when they have been criticized, over time it becomes a choice, and you have to wonder what’s going on.” The same Politico report says that in February 2017, six US Senators wrote to then Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin accusing Chinese banks of facilitating North Korea’s weapons programme; one of the banks named was Bank of China, “raising concerns among U.S. officials that at least some of the assistance being giving (sic) to Pyongyang is state-sponsored”. Apparently, US experts in counter-proliferation have been “quietly ringing alarm bells about China’s role in the global black market in WMD parts and technology for years”, says the Politico report.
Lest we forget, just about two years ago, in February 2020, acting on a tip-off, India’s Department of Revenue Intelligence and the Customs caught a Chinese ship at Gujarat’s Kandla port for “misdeclaring” a dual use autoclave as an industrial dryer. The ship was headed for Karachi and such autoclaves can be used for manufacturing ballistic missiles.
And these are just a few instances from the recent past about a country which spews homilies about nuclear non proliferation, but uses non-state actors to arm rogue countries with nuclear arms. And gets away with it, with all the agencies concerned being silent about China’s role in nuclear proliferation. The rest of the world will start taking the latest declaration from the P5 countries seriously only when they catch the rogue sitting in their midst—the rogue that is using nuclear proliferation to serve its own strategic goals.