The above article says that in early 2020 India seized a Chinese ship that was carrying equipment that was supposed to be used to build nuclear weapons, and was destined for Pakistan.

The Indian officials kept the cargo and let the ship go.

Did China retaliate for this behavior by India?

If NO, what is behind this polite gesture?


1 Answer 1


Diplomacy is an odd business... China sent a questionable item to Pakistan — an industrial autoclave that can (possibly) be used for refining uranium — and India seized it under non-proliferation pacts, that's simple enough. But there are a lot of subtleties underneath this event that are hard to parse.

  • China claims it's not a 'dual use' autoclave that can be adapted to military applications, but likely doesn't want to raise a stink about it. Raising a stink would invite the international community to look closely at the transfer, which might prove embarrassing to the Chinese government if they were trying to pull a fast one.
  • India may have seized the device more because it was an opportunity to embarrass the Chinese (whom they have consistent border disputes with), than because it could actually be adopted to military use. Appearances matter more than facts, sometimes, and making a stink about an objectively harmless act can often be effective.

In any case, this is unlikely to be something that the Chinese would retaliate over. The autoclave is still technically Chinese property, and will probably be returned to the company that shipped it after the incident has been milked for any political and diplomatic advantage. Or if it actually is 'dual use' it might be destroyed as contraband, but the Chinese won't object too strongly because they'll want it to appear as an honest mistake. Diplomacy is a long game, and good players don't get their nose out of joint if they lose a hand.

  • The miffing part about this is: if China knew of the military destination of the cargo for Pakistan, why did the ship dock in India?
    – user366312
    Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 7:10
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    @user366312, because re-routing it would mean bringing more people into the secret? A generation ago, German customs seized an arms shipment by German intelligence. Customs were not cleared to know and the intelligence agencies were not very good smugglers.
    – o.m.
    Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 8:27
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    @user366312: it all depends on what the Chinese were thinking: (1) they could have honestly believed it was a non-problematic shipment. (2) they could have known it was problematic, but thought it would pass without India realizing. (3) they could have known it was problematic, but thought that sending it by another route would raise bigger red flags. (4) they could have sent it explicitly as a test, to see if they could slip contraband through India's customs net. As I said, an odd business... Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 20:16
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    @user366312: Are you suggesting that China should have shipped a purportedly 'innocent' cargo by a special ship that made no other ports of call? That would not go unnoticed, would raise suspicions, and might have resulted in an interdiction and inspection by the Indian navy. It would also leave China without the plausible deniability they currently enjoy. If one is going to ship contraband, one does not want to look like one is shipping contraband. Commented Mar 21, 2022 at 0:26
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    @user366312: It doesn't matter what port the ship uses: contraband of this nature can be seized in any port, or at sea by the indian Navy (or really any navy that's signed onto the nuclear anti-proliferation pacts). It's clear that India was looking for that particular cargo; they boarded the ship to find it; it wasn't unloaded at Kanla port. They could have boarded the ship anywhere. Commented Mar 21, 2022 at 6:21

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