China's atomic test threatens ban: US and other nuclear powers reconsider their moratorium on carrying out explosions

PRESIDENT Bill Clinton has ordered preparations for a possible resumption of underground nuclear testing next year in a direct response to a test completed by China early yesterday in defiance of international calls for a moratorium. Other nuclear powers are reconsidering their positions after the first nuclear explosion anywhere in the world for just over a year.

Confirming the test, Peking said China's 'development and possession of a small number of nuclear weapons is completely for its self-defence'. China would not be the first to use nuclear weapons, it added.

Only three months ago, Mr Clinton suspended the US nuclear testing programme for 15 months while work continues on negotiating a permanent worldwide moratorium on all such detonations, to take effect from 1996. Britain, France and Russia simultaneously pledged to abide by the suspension, but Paris and Moscow have indicated that they might resume testing if others did so.

Washington has been pleading with Peking for several weeks to desist from any testing. Relations with China are already strained following allegations that it is selling nuclear weapons technology abroad, undermining efforts to curb nuclear proliferation.

At the same time, the Clinton administration has put China on notice that its trading privileges with the US will be withdrawn next year if it fails to demonstrate an improvement in its human rights record. A hastily prepared White House statement yesterday said: 'The United States deeply regrets this action. We urge China to refrain from further nuclear tests and to join the other nuclear powers in a global moratorium.'

President Clinton stopped short of saying US tests would resume, asking only that the energy and defence departments should make preparations for the possibility of fresh tests next year. Money for such detonations has been preserved in the US budget and the testing sites beneath the Nevada desert - also used by Britain - have been maintained in operational condition.

The White House said the decision on whether to authorise new tests would depend on national considerations and the attitude taken by China and other nuclear nations. Any decision to rescind the 15-month freeze would, however, need the approval of Congress, which has increasingly voiced opposition to further testing.

The timing of China's test is likely to set back recent US attempts to ease friction between the two countries. Last week it was announced that President Clinton would meet Jiang Zemin, China's President and Communist Party chief, next month in what was seen as a possible bridge- building exercise. Sino-American relations have been badly bruised by the US sanctions in retaliation for alleged weapons technology shipments to Peking, and mistaken allegations that a Chinese container ship was taking proscribed chemicals to Iran. China was also incensed by a motion in Congress that Peking should not get the 2000 Olympics because of human rights abuses.

Russia yesterday expressed 'deep regret' over China's test, saying it would hamper talks on a complete test ban. A spokesman said President Boris Yeltsin would take the reaction of the other nuclear powers into account. The French government, however, refused to comment, reflecting deep divisions over the unilateral freeze on testing announced by President Francois Mitterrand in April 1992. The military and scientific establishments are pressing for a resumption, but politicians are wary of the issue, 15 months before the next presidential election.

The Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, said yesterday that Britain was consulting the United States over the next move. Mr Clinton's order to prepare for a possible resumption of testing was 'very reasonable'.

Leading article, letters, page 23

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager - South East & East Anglia

£60500 - £65500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global leading software co...

Recruitment Genius: Junior IT Technician

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you want the opportunity to ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Support Worker

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Home Care Support Workers needed in the Hastin...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Support Worker - Car / Bike / Moped Drivers

£7 - £11 per hour: Recruitment Genius: NEW branch opening soon in Worthing fol...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent