The PLA Insight: Issue no 50: China’s Nuclear Tests; Escalating Tensions in East Asia; PLA Conscriptions 2020; PLA’s Influence Operations, and more

I. The Big Story: China Conducts Nuclear Tests?

Beijing might secretly be conducting low-level nuclear tests at its Lup Nur site in the far northwestern region of Xinjiang, claims a new arms control report by the State Department. This is despite Beijing’s claim of strictly adhering to an international accord of banning all nuclear tests. The State Department’s report doesn’t present a proof that China is violating its promise to uphold the agreement, but it cites an array of activities that “raise concerns” about Beijing not complying with the “zero-yield” nuclear-weapons testing ban.

Suspicious activities: 

– High tempo activity at China’s Lup Nur site.
– Excavation at the cite.
– Beijing’s purported use of special chambers to contain the explosions.
– In the past years, transmissions from China’s monitoring stations have detected radio emissions and seismic tremors.

Both the US and China signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), concluded in 1996, but neither country has ratified it, and – partly as a result – the agreement has not come into force. However, China has sworn to adhere to CTBT terms, and the US has been observing a moratorium on nuclear testing.

If the treaty were in force, it would include a mechanism for on-site inspections of suspect sites.

The US defence intelligence agency levelled similar accusations against Russia in May last year, which were never confirmed. The US hawks have been urging the Trump administration to formally break from the CTBT, leaving it free to conduct new nuclear tests of its own.

China denied the allegation and the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, told reporters at a daily briefing that the allegations about the Chinese nuclear testing in the department’s Nuclear Compliance Report were “totally unfounded counter charges that confuse right and wrong.” Zhao, instead, pointed to the US withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and other agreements as grounds for discounting Washington’s accusations.

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.

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