China secretly tests nuclear bombs while rest of the world is distracted by coronavirus, US State Department suggests – The Sun

CHINA may have secretly detonated nuclear bombs while the world was distracted by coronavirus, a US State Department report claims.

It cites evidence of increased activity at an underground facility, raising concerns of possible breaches of an international pact banning such tests.

Beijing today insisted it is committed to a moratorium on nuclear tests and said the United States was making false accusations.

The State Department report – first reported last night by the Wall Street Journal – threatens to inflame tensions already strained by the Covid-19 crisis and Donald Trump's trade war.

It suggests China has been conducting so-called "zero yield" test blasts – nuclear detonations below the threshold to start a chain reaction.

Although it does not offer proof, the report details excavations and suspicious movements at the Lup Nur research site throughout 2019.

It says: "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."

China and the US have both agreed not to conduct new tests under the The 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, although it allows activities designed to ensure the safety of existing warheads.

US officials claimed Beijing was concealing its activities by ceasing transmission of data from sensors which would reveal any seismic movements from underground nuke tests.

A spokeswoman for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, which verifies compliance with the pact, told the Wall Street Journal 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.

And Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian rubbished the report.

He told a daily briefing in Beijing: "China has always adopted a responsible attitude, earnestly fulfilling the international obligations and promises it has assumed.

"The US criticism of China is entirely groundless, without foundation, and not worth refuting."

But a senior Washington official said the concerns reinforced President Donald Trump's case for getting China to join the US and Russia in arms control talks to replace the 2010 New START treaty which expires in February.

"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 official.

China, estimated to have about 300 nuclear weapons, has repeatedly rejected Trump's proposal, arguing its nuclear force is defensive and poses no threat.

Lop Nur in the remote north-western desert in Xinjiang province was China's main test site until it signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996.

Russia, France and Britain – three of the world's five internationally recognized nuclear powers – signed and ratified the CTBT, which still requires ratification by 44 countries to become international law.

China and the United States are among eight signatories that have not ratified it.

But China has declared its adherence to its terms, while the United States has observed a unilateral testing moratorium since 1992.

The report comes after Mr Trump appeared to back sensational claims that Covid-19 was created in a lab to prove China is better than the US at fighting disease.

The president has also been fiercely critical of Beijing's handling of the outbreak in Wuhan and the cut off funding from the World Health Organization over its perceived closeness to Beijing.

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