China's official response to the March 2 US-India nuclear deal has been rather low-key, if not completely muted. Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang (秦剛) commented that any nuclear cooperation should contribute to the strengthening of the international nuclear nonproliferation efforts and expressed the hope that non-signatory states could sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as non-nuclear weapon states.
However, the Chinese news media have evidenced little reticence on the issue, focusing not only on the significance of the nuclear deal, but also assessing the broader trends of closer strategic ties between Washington and New Delhi. In a way, the media comments and experts' analyses suggest Beijing is not completely indifferent to the increasingly close ties between the US and India.
At the summit in New Delhi early this month, US President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made the surprising announcement that the US and India had reached an agreement on nuclear cooperation, after India agreed to separate its civilian and military nuclear programs and pledged to open 14 of its 22 nuclear power reactors currently running to international inspection. While Beijing's official reactions were rather muted, to say the least, some Chinese commentators did take issue with Washington's double standards in its nonproliferation policy and the potentially far-reaching impact on global efforts to combat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
China's media described Bush's visit to India, his first in five years, as a major milestone in US-India relations. Indeed, since last July during Singh's visit to Washington the two countries have pursued a series of initiatives to expand bilateral cooperation.
Global Times, a popular Chinese international affairs newspaper affiliated with the official Chinese Communist Party flagship paper, the People's Daily, noted at the time the significance that the US attached to the Singh visit and the increasingly warm relationship between the two countries, in particular the Bush administration's reversal of long-standing US nonproliferation policy by seeking to remove obstacles to greater US-Indian cooperation in the civilian nuclear sector. This is despite the fact that New Delhi has yet to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
In a separate report at the time, the China Daily, the official paper targeted at overseas Chinese and foreign audiences, argued that the nuclear deal set a bad precedent. It cited concerns by many nuclear nonproliferation analysts that the US was applying double standards in its WMD nonproliferation policy.
This in effect further undermines global nonproliferation principles. Chinese analysts suggest that the US-India nuclear deal could make it more difficult to tackle the Iranian and North Korean nuclear issues and incur strong objections from Tehran and Pyongyang as Washington demands that they give up their nuclear programs. Pakistan may also demand that it receive the same treatment as India did. They also point out that the US-India nuclear deal sets a bad example for countries with advanced nuclear technologies that have chosen to forgo the development of nuclear weapons.
Chinese media reports also comment on expanding US-India ties, in particular in the areas of defense and space cooperation, as well as economic relations. India's rapid economic growth over the past decade and its desire to be recognized as a major power has drawn increasing international attention. The US has over the last decade reoriented its South Asia policy to take account of these new developments and sought to develop closer ties with India.