Author : Pulkit Mohan

Expert Speak War Fare
Published on Apr 13, 2020
The relationship between China and Pakistan has been a major hurdle in India’s membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
DRDO seizes mislabeled autoclave from a Chinese ship: A nuclear opportunity for India

On 3 February, an Indian customs team at India’s Kandla Port detained a Chinese ship Dai Cai Yun en-route to Karachi, Pakistan. The team operated on the basis of an intelligence tip-off. The ship was allowed on 20 February, to proceed to the aforementioned destination once dual-use (civilian and military) equipment mislabeled as an industrial autoclave was seized. Technical experts from the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) confirmed that the seized autoclave was a “dual use industrial autoclave, which was misdeclared as an industrial dyer.” Beijing denied that the material seized is “neither military supplies nor dual use items under non-proliferation and export control.” Given the DRDO’s confirmation and further analysis, it is important for New Delhi to raise serious concerns about the incident at a bilateral level as well as in the international context to expose China on its dubious activities.

This incident once again highlights the continuing and strong nexus between China and Pakistan in the area of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). It is well-known that Pakistan’s nuclear programme is not indigenous and that China has had a critical role in the development and sustenance of the Pakistani nuclear weapons programme. China has grown as Pakistan’s all-weather ally and provided significant support in terms of expertise and material in the last several decades. New Delhi has been apprehensive about this alliance between Beijing and Islamabad, specifically in the nuclear and military domain. These uncertainties are not unfounded as is displayed by the autoclave incident. New Delhi should acknowledge the opportunity this incident brings in addressing this matter at an international platform for its benefit as well as in strengthening the non-proliferation mechanism.

It is well-known that Pakistan’s nuclear programme is not indigenous and that China has had a critical role in the development and sustenance of the Pakistani nuclear weapons programme.

The seizure demands an appropriate response from India’s national security planners due to the clear violation of international frameworks. Given the rarity of such incidents being intercepted by Indian authorities, it is important that India looks into possible responses through multiple channels. The falsification of information provided by China and Pakistan presents New Delhi with a couple of avenues to pursue this in the international context. In this situation, India can invoke the Weapons of Mass Destruction and Their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Act 2005. The Act provides legislation on unlawful activities in relation to WMDs. In this specific context, the Act may be invoked on the grounds of unlawful “transportation of a nuclear explosive device or a nuclear weapon and their means of delivery.” However, the more pertinent instrument available to the Indian government is the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1540 (2004). This UNSC resolution reiterates the concern of “the threat of illicit trafficking in nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons and their means of delivery, and related materials, which adds a new dimension to the issue of proliferation of such weapons and also poses a threat to international peace and security.”

The relationship between China and Pakistan has also been a major hurdle in India’s membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). China has repeatedly blocked India’s entry on the grounds that only signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) can be a member of the NSG. China has reiterated that it is not singling India out specifically and it is purely adhering to the rules and regulations of the NSG. Indian experts on the matter have observed that it is likely that China has blocked India’s entry into the NSG, in a show of solidarity with its ally, Pakistan. With the seizure of the autoclave, India can raise the issue at international platforms to hold China and Pakistan and put them on the defensive. India must call upon its friends and partners such as the United States and France to pursue this case.

The seizure of the autoclave has reaffirmed New Delhi’s stance that Pakistan’s nuclear programme is further strengthened by China. India, therefore, also needs to be mindful of the increasingly deepening alliance and take into account the two-front threat the country faces in New Delhi’s security calculations. Given the rare occasion where India has substantial evidence to hold Beijing accountable, it is important that India uses this opportunity to bring international attention to the matter. New Delhi is confronted with an opportunity to justify national security interests at a domestic and international context and must do so in order to further its position in the nuclear world order.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.


Pulkit Mohan

Pulkit Mohan

Pulkit Mohan is the Head of Forums at ORF. She is responsible for the ideation curation and execution of ORFs flagship conferences. Her research focuses include ...

Read More +