In a report, the U.S. State Department stated, China may have secretly conducted a low-level underground test explosions nuclear despite being a signatory to an international pact which bans such blasts.
The findings, which were first reported by the Wall Street Journal is likely to further strain ties between Washington and Beijing. The report comes at a time when there are allegations of the coronavirus having escaped from a Chinese research facility in Wuhan.
In a report, the State Department said, “U.S. concerns about Beijing’s possible breaches of a zero yield standard for test blasts have been prompted by activities at China’s Lop Nur nuclear test site throughout 2019”.
The term zero yield refers to a nuclear test in which the explosive chain reaction triggered by the detonation of a nuclear warhead is absent.
“China’s possible preparation to operate its Lop Nur test site year-round, its use of explosive containment chambers, extensive excavation activities at Lop Nur and a lack of transparency on its nuclear testing activities … raise concerns regarding its adherence to the zero yield standard,” reads a report from the State Department.
Beijing’s lack of transparency includes blocking data transmissions from sensors linked to a monitoring center operated by the international agency that verifies compliance with a treaty banning nuclear test explosions.
The 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) allows activities designed to ensure the safety of nuclear weapons.
In a statement, a spokeswoman for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization said, there had been no interruptions in data transmissions from China’s five sensor stations since the end of August 2019 following an interruption that began in 2018.
According to a senior U.S. official, China’s testing activities have buttressed U.S. President Donald Trump’s case for getting China to join the United States and Russia in talks on an arms control accord which will replace the 2010 New START treaty between Washington and Moscow.
“The pace and manner by which the Chinese government is modernizing its stockpile is worrying, destabilizing, and illustrates why China should be brought into the global arms control framework,” said the senior U.S. official on the condition of anonymity.
China, estimated to have about 300 nuclear weapons, has repeatedly rejected Trump’s proposal, arguing its nuclear force is defensive and poses no threat.