China and its "all-weather" ally Pakistan are discussing an agreement similar to the one India has reached with the US on the civilian nuclear cooperation to maintain the regional security balance, sources said here today.

Even as the two old allies discuss a nuclear deal, China’s reservations over the Indo-US deal and the boundary issue may be clouding Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s maiden visit to Beijing, which is likely to take place towards the end of the year, they said.

Since Pakistan has pleaded with China at the highest level not to let it down in the nuclear balance with India, Beijing is apparently working out a nuclear deal with Islamabad, in case the Indo-US nuclear agreement is okayed by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the sources told PTI here preferring anonymity.

While China was apparently taken aback by the finalisation of the 123 Agreement, Beijing now hopes that the opposition within India itself will wreck the Indo-US nuclear deal, the sources said.

At the same time, China is making active preparations for a counter-deal involving Pakistan, they said, while taking note of the recent spate of critical reports on the Indo-US nuclear agreement in the official Chinese media.

The China-Pakistan defence ties and the implications of the Indo-US deal on Beijing and Islamabad came up for detailed discussions here this month when Chairman of Pakistan’s Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, Gen Ehsan Ul Haq, visited Beijing.
During talks with Chinese Vice President Zeng Qinghong and Defence Minister Cao Gangchuan, the Pakistani side was assured that Beijing would further step-up its support to ensure the security of the country and maintain regional balance in South Asia, the sources said. Haq had led a high-profile military delegation comprising representatives of three services as well as Ministries of Defence and Defence Production and Joint Staff Headquarters.

During his stay in Beijing, Haq also met Vice Minister of Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (COSTIND) Jinchung Long, Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo - also the Special Representative of China to the India-China boundary talks - and Chief of Army Gen Liang Guanglie.

China also sent its Assistant Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai to Islamabad early this month, who called on President Pervez Musharraf, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, Foreign Minister Khurshid M Kasuri among others, discussing the draft of the Sino-Pakistan civilian nuclear deal among other issues, the sources said.

If Beijing and New Delhi fail to find common ground on the Indo-US deal and achieve marked progress on the vexed boundary issue, the atmosphere will not be conducive for a Prime Ministerial visit, they said.

While no date has been announced for Singh’s trip to China, active preparations are on for the high-level visit.

The sources said that of late, Sino-India relations have faced turbulent times, mainly due to Beijing’s opposition to the Indo-US nuclear deal, stalemate on the boundary negotiations and India joining forces with the US, Japan and Australia to promote "democracy" in Asia.

An Article By PTI.