China's penchant for ill-timed nuclear tests prompted an international outcry yesterday. Less than two weeks after the world commemorated the 50th anniversaries of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, Peking confirmed that it had conducted an underground nuclear explosion at its Lop Nor test site in western China.
It was China's 43rd nuclear test. The previous one, in May, occurred only days after Peking agreed to an indefinite extension of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
The Foreign Ministry yesterday said China had "exercised utmost restraint" on nuclear testing.
Peking has pledged to cease testing once a comprehensive test-ban treaty comes into force. Until then, it will proceed with its test programme, arguing that China has carried out fewer tests than other nuclear states.
International pressure over nuclear testing has increased since France announced it will resume testing at the Mururoa Atoll site in the Pacific next month. Yesterday, Paris would not comment on China's test.
On Wednesday, China deported eight Greenpeace activists, including two photographers, for taking part in an anti-nuclear protest in Tiananmen Square.
In Australia, the Prime Minister, Paul Keating, said his countrymen were angry that "both China and France have decided to continue testing nuclear weapons".
The New Zealand Prime Minister, Jim Bolger, said the test was "all the more reprehensible in the light of the current widespread protest at France's decision to resume nuclear testing in the South Pacific".
The strongest reaction came from Tokyo, where the Foreign Minister summoned the Chinese ambassador, and the government threatened cuts in aid. The Chief Cabinet Secretary, Koken Nosaka, said: "We seriously regret China has again conducted nuclear tests today at a time when not only Japan but the whole world was renewing the wish for nuclear disarmament after the 50th anniversary of the war and the first nuclear bombs."
Britain said it was not surprised: "You could characterise our response as resigned to the fact that there will be one or two tests from various parties such as the Chinese or the French," a Foreign Office spokesman said.