China's last explosion ends nuclear tests

Ban on the bomb: World relief as Peking pledges to honour moratorium, but hurdles remain before a treaty can be signed

With one final Chinese blast, global nuclear testing in theory came to an end yesterday morning. But only hours after Peking "hereby solemnly declared" that it would now observe a moratorium on tests, talks on a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) reconvened in Geneva with negotiators still struggling to devise a text for a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) which India and China would accept.

Time is now running out if the CTBT is to be ready for signing at the UN General Assembly in New York in September, as had been scheduled. At the moment India is posing the biggest problem, by insisting that the CTBT must promote disarmament as well as curtailing tests. India wants the treaty to include a pledge by the nuclear powers to dismantle their existing nuclear weapons. If India refuses to sign, as is widely expected, the treaty will not be legally binding.

Meanwhile China, backed by India, is objecting to proposed measures to monitor and verify the global test ban, saying that such on-site inspections may be used by the West for intelligence-gathering.

The United States and Russia believe Peking will agree to a compromise on this sticking point, and the Chinese foreign minister, Qian Qichen, last week said he hoped the treaty would be signed in September.

In June China dropped its initial insistence that "peaceful" nuclear explosions ought to be made be exempt from the test ban, although it still wants the issue reassessed after 10 years.

China's underground nuclear explosion yesterday morning, at its Lop Nor site in western Xinjiang province, was its 45th since Peking started tests in 1964. The test was very small - estimated to be the equivalent of about 5,000 tons of TNT, a quarter to a third of the size of the Hiroshima bomb and minimal by modern standards. The small size of the test suggests it may have been conducted to calibrate instruments for subsequent computer simulation of nuclear explosions, or to test a particular component of a nuclear device, such as a trigger mechanism.

By halting its programme now, China has ensured that it will sit level with Britain in the league table of nuclear tests.

Peking's reply to worldwide criticism for being the last country to observe the moratorium has always been that it has conducted fewer tests than the other big nuclear powers.

According to Greenpeace, the final nuclear test scorecard reads: the United States, 1,030; the former Soviet Union, 715; France, 210; the UK, 45; China, 45; and India, probably 1.

The Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, said: "The ending of Chinese nuclear testing means that no nuclear weapons state is any longer conducting nuclear tests. This test we had today we hope will be the last nuclear test that will ever take place."

China's decision to hold its last test before the Geneva talks resumed suggests that Peking was anxious to minimise a potentially hostile global reaction. Peking had already announced in June that it would be conducting one more test, which analysts warned could be disruptive if it took place during the CTBT negotiations.

Yesterday, after years of being on the defensive about its continuing tests, Peking was seeking the moral high ground.

"Such an important decision by China is not only a response to the appeal of the vast number of non-nuclear weapon states, but also a concrete action to promote nuclear disarmament," a government statement said.

China is believed to have the smallest nuclear arsenal of the five nuclear powers. The government statement called on nuclear powers "drastically to reduce" nuclear stockpiles.

China's Asian neighbours, however, yesterday criticised Peking for conducting one last test, although they welcomed the new moratorium.

Anti-nuclear groups, independent analysts and diplomats in the West saw the test as a boost to their hopes for a comprehensive and permanent nuclear test ban.

"The main thing is the Chinese have now announced a moratorium", the Foreign Office said last night. "We share the international community's wish that yesterday's test should be the last ever."

It said it hoped the moratorium would encourage all states to conclude the CTBT on the basis of the text proposed by Jaap Rameker, the Dutch ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva.

According to Suzanne van Moyland, of the London-based Verification Technology Control Institute (Vertic), the test was a "boost" to hopes that it would be the last and also an exercise of "leverage" by China in the final stages of the CTBT negotiations, which stalled in June.

Rebecca Johnson, of the Disarmament Intelligence Review, said: "China's timing is clearly aimed at giving a boost to early conclusion of the Treaty, as China realised that it would be very difficult to test once the Treaty was agreed".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine