China and Pakistan are discussing an agreement similar to the one India has reached with the United States on civilian nuclear cooperation to maintain the regional security balance, sources said on Sunday.
Though taken aback by the finalisation of the 123 Agreement, China still hopes that opposition within India will ultimately prevent it from being operationalised. But in the event of it coming through, China is making active preparations for a counter-deal with Pakistan, one which the latter has long been seeking. China has long been supporting Pakistan's nuclear programme, including building its 300 MW nuclear plant at Chashma.
Pakistan's defence ties with China, and the implications of the Indo-US deal on the two countries were discussed in detail earlier this months when General Ehsan-ul-Haq, chairman of Pakistan's joint chiefs of staff committee, led a top-level military delegation to Beijing. During talks, Chinese Vice-President Zeng Qinghong and Defence Minister Cao Gangchuan assured the delegation of increased support to ensure its security.
China's Assistant Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai also visited Islamabad this month, calling on President Pervez Musharraf, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and Foreign Minister Khurshid M Kasuri among others. At these meetings, the draft of a possible Sino-Pakistan deal was discussed, sources said.
China's reservations over the Indo-US deal and the boundary issue may cloud Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's year-end visit to Beijing.
Meanwhile, a report from Islamabad said that Pakistan has decided to accelerate its nuclear programme in view of the Indo-US civil nuclear deal, with President Musharraf issuing directives to scientists in this regard. It was reported that the work on the Khushab reactor would be accelerated, while new reactors would also be installed.