China has recently signed a nuclear energy deal with Pakistan worth $4.8 billion, accelerating its efforts towards civil nuclear cooperation, in a curious move to seek export customers in a market dictated by the West and Russia.
In June this year, China and Pakistan signed a nuclear energy deal worth 4.8 billion dollars, which experts believe is a prying move on the part of Beijing, done at a time when it has already had a jarring ride on its investments in Pakistan’s power business and has had to suffer to sapping cash crunch due to shortage of Islamabad’s foreign exchange reserves and fears of an economic meltdown.
Experts believe that China’s latest civil nuclear cooperation deal with Pakistan seems to be inclined towards more strategic ambitions than economics.
“China wants to continue to build nuclear power plants in Pakistan to build up a track record for Chinese industry to enter other, perhaps more lucrative and less-captive nuclear power markets”, said Mark Hibbs, a senior fellow for the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
As per details of the nuclear deal, China will build a 1,200-megawatt plant at the Chashma nuclear power complex in central Pakistan, featuring it as Beijing’s first indigenous civil nuclear reactor, the Hualong One. Hualong One is a third-generation pressurized water reactor, jointly developed by China National Nuclear Corporation and the China General Nuclear Power Group, making it the fifth at the complex, which was built with Chinese assistance and currently produces 1,230 MW for the national grid.
While China is fast becoming one of the most prolific builders of nuclear plants; its exports plans for Pakistan are ambitious, stemming from recent official suggestions that by 2030, China could build at least 30 overseas reactors, spread across countries participating in its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has given pivotal significance and importance to its deal with China, terming it a huge step towards diversifying the country’s energy needs.
“This project is part of our energy security plan to diversify the energy mix with a focus on ensuring the provision of cheap electricity to the industry & relief to the common man,” stated Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif following the nuclear deal, saying the project “will be built with Chinese investment of $3.48 billion.”
However, experts believe that China’s ambitions are based on its efforts to showcase that it has indigenous technology for nuclear reactors that are safe, reliable, and affordable, which in the long run would serve Chinese interest to compete with other nuclear power exporters in the global markets.
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