China holds test of nuclear arms, promises to stop Move appears to be aimed at talks on worldwide nuclear test ban


BEIJING -- China conducted a nuclear test yesterday, and promised that it would be its last.

China is the last acknowledged nuclear weapons power to declare a moratorium on testing. Western diplomats welcomed the announcement, which coincided with the resumption yesterday in Geneva of crucial talks on completing a draft treaty for a worldwide ban on nuclear tests.

But the leading Chinese negotiator at the 61-nation disarmament conference, Sha Zukang, surprised other delegations yesterday by saying that China would press for changes in the treaty. Although he gave no details, diplomats said the provisions in question govern verification procedures to monitor possible violators of the pact.

U.S. negotiators at the conference say they have made their final concessions on verification after winning the right to use evidence from American intelligence-gathering equipment to demand an inspection.

China's announcement of the moratorium appeared to be timed to encourage negotiators to reach a final agreement.

"In a way, it closes a chapter of the Cold War," said an Asian diplomat. "It took a long time, but now the use of nuclear weapons for test purposes is finally over."

U.S. and Russian officials have said they hope to complete the test ban negotiations quickly, perhaps as early as next week. China and India have expressed reservations about the proposed text of the agreement. Yet Chinese officials have dropped their previous insistence on allowing nuclear testing for nonmilitary purposes -- necessary in case a giant asteroid threatened Earth, the Chinese sometimes said -- though negotiators from other nations found that possibility a bit far-fetched.

China also says it wants to be able to use such explosions for large development projects like dams, but has agreed to put off that issue until the first conference on treaty revisions.

India, however, has refused to sign the treaty in its present form, demanding that it also provide for destroying all existing nuclear weapons within a set time. India's new government has not yet threatened to block completion of the accord in Geneva, although some diplomats fear that New Delhi's stand could harden in coming days.

India can keep the treaty from going into force because the document must be signed and ratified by all five declared nuclear powers and by three countries believed to have NTC clandestine weapons programs: India, Israel and Pakistan. Israel said this weekend that it can support the treaty. As long as India does not, Pakistan is unlikely to sign.

Pub Date: 7/30/96

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