As the rest of the world rounded on Delhi, Peking for the first time also claimed a place on the moral high ground of supposed nuclear respectability. It was "deeply shocked", a foreign ministry statement said. The tests would have "serious consequences to the peace and stability in South Asia and the world at large".
The Indian ambassador to Peking was summoned to hear a protest, and the Foreign Minister, Tang Jiaxuan, phoned his US counterpart, Madeleine Albright, to call for a "clear-cut and firm stance" against India's nuclear programme.
In recent years Peking has more often been heard defending its own right to a modern nuclear armoury. China did not halt its own test programme until July 1996, when it conducted its 45th nuclear blast. Peking then implemented a moratorium on testing and in September 1996 signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Since then stories have persisted that China has helped Pakistan develop missile systems and nuclear technology, an allegation denied by both.
India's mistrust of China's relationship with Pakistan is never far from the surface in relations between Asia's two giants. The Press Trust of India news agency said the Indian Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, had cited "an atmosphere of distrust" in relations with China in a letter to President Bill Clinton explaining the decision to conduct nuclear tests. "We have an overt nuclear-weapon state on our borders, a state which committed armed aggression against India in 1962," the letter said.
Four decades later, India and China have still not managed to settled disputes over border demarcations.
Peking yesterday dismissed India's picture of China as a nuclear threat as "gratuitous". "India wants to achieve a dominant position in South Asia," said Sun Shihai, deputy director of the Institute of Asia- Pacific Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Also in Peking yesterdayNorth Korea's ambassador to China, Chu Chang- jun, conducted a rare news briefing at which he warned that "some of our officials" had suggested Pyongyang should revive its nuclear-power programme. He accused Washington of moving too slowly on supplying promised light- water reactors. Under a 1994 accord, Pyongyang agreed to halt its reactor programme in return for safer reactors financed by South Korea, the US, and Japan.
More recently, North Korea was accused of supplying technology for Pakistan's new Ghauri missile, whose test flight a few weeks ago so alarmed the Indian government.
r Britain is recalling its High Commissioner from New Delhi for consultations, Reuters reports. Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, told parliament Britain would be consulting its European partners on further reactions but did not mention the possibility of imposing sanctions.Reuse content