Beijing blasted over new underground test

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 August, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 August, 1995, 12:00am

CHINA'S second underground nuclear test this year provoked a worldwide storm of condemnation yesterday, with Japan going farthest in threatening another cut in development aid to Beijing.

With the exception of France, which is about to conduct its own nuclear tests, all major Western countries condemned the blast at the Lop Nor site in western Xinjiang.

The blast, which registered 5.6 on the Richter scale, was the equivalent of 20 to 80 kilotons of conventional explosives, the Australian Geological Survey Organisation said.

An announcement was made by the official Xinhua (New China News Agency) but did not include details on the size of the explosion.

Japan, China's largest creditor, issued the strongest protest so far with its Foreign Minister Yohei Kono summoning Chinese Ambassador Xu Dunxin to formally lodge the protest.

'I told him . . . our country's aid draws funds from taxpayers, and I told him that the Government must reflect the voice of the people,' Mr Kono said.

But Japan was not considering touching Tokyo's huge yen-loan package, which forms the bulk of its aid to China. Japan's grant aid to China was worth 7.8 billion yen (HK$79.5 million at current exchange rates) in the last financial year, and Tokyo has already said it would reduce it to protest against Chinese nuclear tests.

The mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki sent letters to the Chinese embassy in Tokyo denouncing the test as an 'outrageous act'.

About 30 Japanese from civil groups rallied for about one hour in front of the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo to protest against the test.

In the United States, White House spokesman Ginny Terzano urged China to exercise restraint.

'We regret it and we urge the Chinese to refrain. It will be harder to get a test ban agreement if such tests continue,' she said.

While Britain said it was 'resigned' about the latest test, Germany said it was 'no longer appropriate'.

Russian officials also denounced China, saying the move contradicted global disarmament goals.

'Our position is unchanged. We hope China will reconsider its current policy concerning nuclear tests and will refrain from continuing them,' Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Demurin said.

But France, under fire for its own plans for nuclear tests in the South Pacific next month, shied from joining the widespread criticism of China and reiterated that its tests would be the last.

China also met with strong criticism from the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, although its representative promised Beijing would abide by a test ban being negotiated at the Geneva body.

The 38-nation conference is working to wrap up a comprehensive test ban treaty by the end of 1996, and has been buoyed by recent commitments from Paris and Washington to prohibit even small explosions.

Taking the floor to respond to the criticisms, Chinese Ambassador Sha Zukang said Beijing 'understood the concerns of a large number of non-nuclear states' about nuclear testing but had always exercised 'extreme restraint'.

The ambassador said China possessed only a small number of nuclear weapons for self-defence and had never posed a nuclear threat to any other state.

'Once the comprehensive test ban treaty enters into force, China will abide by the treaty and stop forever nuclear tests,' he added.

Diplomats in Beijing described the test as inappropriate and said its timing was at the very least tactless, coming just days after the 50th anniversary of the world's first atomic explosion at Hiroshima.

Military experts have said that China is likely to conduct three more tests before the end of next year, when a worldwide comprehensive test ban treaty is expected to take effect. China is trying to create lighter, more powerful warheads for its nuclear arsenal, experts have said.

Western intelligence reports have estimated China's nuclear arsenal at somewhere between 300 and 450 warheads, a fraction of the 45,000 warheads the US and the former Soviet Union were believed to hold at the end of 1993.

One Western military attache in Beijing said: 'Even with those three extra tests, the Chinese will still be way behind the United States and Russia, simply because they started so late.' Yesterday's test occurred two days after six Greenpeace activists were expelled from Beijing after they held an anti-nuclear protest in Tiananmen Square to draw attention to the test.

Greenpeace International anti-nuclear campaigner Damon Moglen, in Hong Kong after returning on Wednesday from their protest, described the test as 'an act of tremendous provocation'.

'We have an impending international crisis. A number of countries in this region have the capacity to build nuclear weapons at great speed,' he said.

'If they said they would build nuclear weapons only to use if provoked, as China does, that could blow up into a regional arms race the size of that seen between the US and the USSR during the Cold War.' Mr Moglen appealed for international pressure to be brought to bear on the five nuclear powers to sign the test ban treaty now rather than next year.

'If all five have said they are committed [to the treaty], why don't they all sign a tentative agreement immediately?' he asked.