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Nuclear Energy On Agenda As Chinese Premier Visits Pakistan

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari (left) and Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao shake hands during their meeting at Zhongnanhai in Beijing in July.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari (left) and Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao shake hands during their meeting at Zhongnanhai in Beijing in July.
Chinese Prime Minster Wen Jiabao has arrived in Pakistan for a three-day visit, during which he will address a joint session of parliament and discuss strategic ties between the two countries -- especially in the civilian nuclear sector.

The two countries are expected to hammer out plans for China to set up its fifth nuclear power reactor in Pakistan. Pakistani media have reported that the two countries have been in talks to develop a one-gigawatt plant -- which would mark the most significant deal in nuclear energy between the two countries to date.

Watch: Express 24/7 video of JF-17 jets accompanying Premier Jiabao's plane through Pakistani airspace:

Pakistan has for several years sought a deal from the United States to provide nuclear technology for civilian energy production similar to that which Washington concluded with Pakistan's arch-rival, India, in 2006. In March, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi traveled to Washington for a "strategic dialogue" with the issue of nuclear cooperation near the top of the agenda, but he reportedly left with little movement from the United States on the issue.

Although Pakistan has received billions of dollars of military and antiterrorism aid resources from the United States, the country has failed to receive any lucrative promises on a potential U.S.-Pakistan nuclear energy deal.

Despite Pakistan's attempts to reassure officials in Washington, the United States remains concerned by Pakistan's nuclear cooperation with China. A longtime economic and military partner, Pakistan has found in Beijing an ally in nuclear technology.

China began building a nuclear reactor in Chashma, in Pakistan's Punjab Province, in 1991. Chinese firms began construction on a second reactor there in 2005, which is scheduled to be complete at the end of 2011. Under the latest agreement, Chinese companies will reportedly build at least two new 650-megawatt reactors in the same area.

According to the World Nuclear Association, nuclear power comprises only a small part of Pakistan's total energy production, supplying slightly more than 2.3 percent of the country's electricity.

Abdul Basit, spokeman for Pakistan's Foreign Ministry, told Radio Mashaal that his country hoped to generate substantial amounts of electricity from nuclear energy by 2030 based on existing cooperation with China. "This cooperation between Pakistan and China is not new," he said.

"We have [already] been producing nuclear energy with the support of China. Our target is to have 8,800 megawatts of electricity from nuclear energy by 2030," he said. "We need this for our economic development."

According to reports, the deal between Pakistan and China bypasses Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) rules that bar sales of nuclear equipment to states that have not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

The Obama administration has pressed the Pakistani government for details on its cooperation with China on nuclear issues. The late Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told Pakistan's "The Nation": "We have asked Pakistan to provide details about the nuclear pact with China. It is yet to be seen what international requirements Pak-China nuclear pact fulfils."

While Washington may be concerned about the partnership, Beijing appears to be in it for the long haul. Al-Jazeera reported on a scene in October where a U.S. delegate confronted a Chinese diplomat about Beijing's uncompromising support for Pakistan. The Chinese official reportedly responded with: "Pakistan is our Israel."

-- Bashir Ahmad Gwakh