By Eva Cheng
Beijing conducted another nuclear test in Xinjiang on May 15, two days after it had promised more than 170 countries that it would try hard not to do so before an agreement to ban nuclear tests is reached, which is scheduled for 1996.
The deal to extend indefinitely the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) reaffirmed the exclusive right of China, the USA, Britain, France and Russia to keep nuclear weapons, provided they do so with "restraint", especially on nuclear tests.
The Xinjiang test is only the first of five which Beijing has scheduled for this year. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said hours after the test that China would continue testing until the proposed comprehensive test ban treaty comes into effect.
The Chinese government continues nuclear testing despite its claim to support destroying all nuclear weapons. In 1993, right after another of China's underground tests, the government said, "China has always stood for the complete prohibition and thorough destruction of nuclear weapons and a worldwide comprehensive ban on nuclear tests".
Beijing has revealed very little about its tests. There is a lack of information as to how the Xinjiang people — or neighbouring populations — suffer from such tests and the extent of resistance, if any.
The latest underground test took place at the Lop Nor site in the far western province of Xinjiang. China rarely announces its tests beforehand; other countries detect them only after they have taken place.
Xinjiang is one of the most inaccessible parts of China. Lop Nor is especially so. Even people in Xinjiang, let alone those in the rest of China, do not necessarily know that the nuclear test — or most of the previous ones — has taken place. Like Tibetans, the people of Xinjiang are ethnically different from the dominant Han race of China and have been seeking independence for decades.
The responsibility for the initial development of nuclear weapons and the subsequent development of ever more destructive bombs certainly lies with the US and the other imperialist powers. So there is reason for China to maintain a nuclear capability as a deterrent against imperialist countries attacking it.
But to compete with the imperialist powers in building ever more destructive nuclear weapons is no way to defend the remaining gains of the 1949 revolution. There are big enough nuclear arsenals to blow the world up many times over. Upgrading the destructibility of weapons is a dead end. The best defence for China would be a political one, mobilising the people of the world against imperialism's aggressive plans, including campaigning for a complete ban on nuclear tests and the destruction of all nuclear weapons.
Until a few years ago, the imperialist powers' justification for escalating the nuclear arms race lay in the alleged nuclear threat from the Soviet Union. But their race continues since the collapse of the Soviet Union. They remain keen to keep the exclusive right to develop nuclear weapon within the existing five "authorised" countries.
How "comprehensive" the planned test ban treaty will be remains a big question. There is already talk among the nuclear weapon nations of excluding from the ban tests of up to several hundred tonnes. (The explosive power of the nuclear bomb that the US dropped on Hiroshima was 20 kilotonnes.) To prevent the catastrophe of a nuclear war and the poisoning of the planet, there is still a pressing need to mobilise the people of the world against the nuclear arm race.