Residents of Beijing 'want to know more'

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

WHILE foreign pundits, protesters and politicians voice their consternation over China's latest nuclear test, and its avowed intention to carry out more, many Beijing residents say they wish they knew more about the issue.

News of the test was reported seven minutes into the evening nationwide television newscast, which also carried the brief explanatory statement issued by Foreign Ministry spokesman Chen Jian.

Xinhua (the New China News Agency) first announced the test around lunchtime, presumably too late to make the pages of the Beijing Evening News.

As residents of the capital set about shopping for their dinner late yesterday, few if any had heard about the test blast detonated in faraway Xinjiang.

'It's hard to know what to think,' said the proprietor of a Beijing coffee bar after being told of yesterday's weapon test, China's 43rd since 1964.

'Our leaders always say that other countries have tested many more times than China and that we need more tests now to catch up.

'Is that true?' he asked.

Apart from the minority of Beijingers who listen to the Chinese-language shortwave newscasts of Voice of America and the BBC, residents of Beijing had little to offer in the way of informed opinion about the issue.

Nor were very many aware that a group of five Greenpeace activists protested on Tiananmen Square on Tuesday against continued Chinese nuclear weapons testing.

'Those people are really something,' said a Beijing academic in his 60s who admitted to listening to Voice of America, but declined to give his name.

'I wish I could have seen it myself.

'To go to Tiananmen Square and do something like that takes a lot of guts, but I don't think the impact can be so great,' he added.

In the minds of many residents, the nuclear test seems closely linked to Chinese surface-to-surface missile tests being conducted in the East Sea near the northern coast of Taiwan.

The current round of missile tests, the second in the past month, has been well publicised in China.

'I don't think Taiwan should be afraid. China would never really attack them,' said one Beijing shopkeeper.

'All of this is just intended to make [Taiwanese president] Lee Teng-hui less popular.' 'Our Government just feels China does not yet have enough nuclear weapons to guarantee security.'