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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

China's Nuclear Explosion Most Likely Not the Last

BEIJING -- China's latest underground nuclear explosion fuelled world suspicion of its commitment to join a year-end test ban, but analysts said international ire would not deter Beijing from pressing ahead with one last test.


"This is typical of how China does things," said one defense analyst. "They use the timing to try to soften criticism."


Saturday's test aroused condemnation around the world with some leaders casting doubt on whether China had been sincere in its conditional offer just two days earlier in Geneva to join the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, or CTBT.


The United States and Japan both urged China to carry out no more tests, while German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said the blast undermined China's recent flexible stance.


"They were bound to criticize it. Period," said Robert Karniol, Asia/Pacific editor for Jane's Defence Weekly, in Bangkok. "This has no deep relevance."


Diplomats said the explosion, coming so soon after Beijing agreed to abandon its demand that an international test ban treaty exempt "peaceful" blasts, was part of China's scramble to upgrade its arsenal before the year-end ban on tests worldwide.


China, the world's only nuclear power still conducting tests and intensely secretive about its nuclear program, appeared to try soften the blow by announcing it would conduct one final test by September when it would implement a moratorium.


"There seems to be some greater transparency here," one Western diplomat said.


"They are stating their intentions now, maybe so that they won't be accused later on of surprising people and jeopardizing the test ban negotiations," he said.


Defense analysts voiced surprise that China would only conduct one more test, saying they had expected it to squeeze in three tests in 1996 before the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is due to take effect at the end of the year.


Over the past few years China has carried out two tests each year in its two main weather windows, one in the late spring and the other in late summer.


The latest test had originally been timed for slightly earlier in the year, well before China's conditional agreement to the CTBT last week, but had been delayed by a string of earthquakes in Xinjiang, Chinese sources said. "They are in a rush to collect more data before the CTBT. We observers were expecting more tests," Karniol said.


One aim of China's tests is miniaturization, he added.


"They want to get a missile to go further and with greater accuracy, but there is only so much space on a missile," he said. "The smaller the payload, the more the fuel and the longer the range, and the more space for guidance systems."


The blast on Saturday at the Lop Nor test site in the northwestern Xinjiang region created a shock that registered 5.7 on the Richter scale and shook residents of the remote desert area.


China's planned moratorium marked its most public commitment so far to join the four other declared nuclear powers -- the United States, Russia, Britain and France -- in halting tests.