China may have secretly set off low-level underground nuclear test explosions despite claiming to observe an international pact banning such blasts, the US State Department said in a report on Wednesday that could fuel US-Chinese tensions.
The revelation, first made by The Wall Street Journal, may worsen ties already strained by US charges that the global Covid-19 pandemic resulted from Beijing’s mishandling of a 2019 outbreak of the coronavirus in the city of Wuhan, South China Morning Post reported.
US concerns about Beijing’s possible breaches of a ‘zero yield’ standard for tests have been prompted by activities at China’s Lop Nur nuclear test site throughout 2019, the State Department report said on Wednesday.
Zero yield refers to a nuclear test in which there is no explosive chain reaction of the type ignited by the detonation of a nuclear warhead.
“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,” the report said, without providing evidence of a low-yield test.
Beijing’s lack of transparency included blocking data transmissions from sensors linked to a monitoring centre 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.