WITH the ink still drying on an extended nuclear nonproliferation treaty, China yesterday continued to flout international calls to end nuclear-weapons testing. It conducted its third test in a year, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman confirmed.
The explosion early yesterday morning monitored by the Australian Seismological Center, was pinpointed at the Lor Nap staging center in the far western province of Xinjiang. It was believed to be equivalent to 40 to 150 kilotons of TNT. The official New China News Agency did not say where or at what time the test was conducted.
The test is believed to be the first of five planned this year. China has defied an international testing moratorium despite urging from the United States, Japan, Australia, and other countries to end its explosions. Yesterday, both Japan and Australia lodged formal protests against China's actions.
China has defended its right to continue the testing until a comprehensive test-ban treaty is signed. It maintains it is showing ''restraint'' in its military testing program, having conducted far fewer tests than the US total.
JAPANESE Vice Foreign Minister Kunihiko Saito was reported by news agencies to have told Wu Dawei, China's charge d'affaires in Tokyo, that ''it is very regrettable that China has carried out a nuclear test'' and ignored Japan's opposition to the nuclear testing.
Last week, an international conference agreed to permanently extend the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which only allows the five declared nuclear powers -- China, the US, Britain, Russia, and France -- to possess nuclear arms.
A comprehensive test ban is expected to be completed next year, according to the terms of the recent treaty extension. A spokesman of the Chinese foreign ministry said that Beijing wants to see ''the complete prohibition and thorough destruction of nuclear weapons'' and advocates an agreement among the nuclear powers covering the non-first-use of nuclear warheads.
Military analysts estimate that China has about 300 warheads, the smallest arsenal of the nuclear powers. Although the US, Russia, and Britain agreed to ban tests in the atmosphere, outer space, and under water in 1963, China and France did not sign the accord.
China's skepticism over stopping testing dates back to the Korean War when General Douglas MacArthur made statements threatening China with nuclear attack. ''As a cold-war leftover, China says it fears past threats of nuclear strike from the US and Russia, and doesn't want to agree to cut off testing until it can catch up with the big powers,'' says an Asian diplomat.