Bomb blast's shock-waves

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 July, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 July, 1996, 12:00am

If all goes well, China's latest nuclear test will be the last such explosion the world ever has the misfortune to witness. Beijing's announcement of an indefinite moratorium on all further blasts allows it to claim the moral high-ground as the world moves towards post-nuclear age, with China having conducted fewer tests than any other major powers, apart from Britain, and only a fraction of the number held by the United States.

Unfortunately the shock-waves from China's final blast may yet derail negotiations on a global test ban treaty. It is India which poses the major obstacle to such a pact. New Delhi is refusing to ratify any treaty, which would effectively freeze its atomic programme, unless the major powers agree to a timetable for dismantling their nuclear arsenals.

There are fears India's stance will harden as a result of Beijing's latest test, which influential commentators have already denounced as a provocation, citing a border dispute with China as justification for New Delhi to retain the right to modernise its nuclear capability.

Time is running out if the treaty is to be signed during September's session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, as was originally planned. The major powers are working on a plan to bypass India's objections. But this will need unanimous support, if it is to be made to work. China's moratorium may have removed one of the major obstacles towards concluding a test ban treaty.

But Beijing letting off a final test has intensified the problems which have still to be resolved, before the nuclear age can be declared to be at an end.