With US-China relations already frayed over the coronavirus pandemic and trade, nuclear tensions may be on the horizon. The Wall Street Journal, citing a new arms-control report that the State Department plans to make public, reports that US authorities suspect Beijing has been violating an international ban on nuclear tests with low-yield explosions at its remote Lop Nur facility in Xinjiang. Authorities say they are concerned by a large increase in activity at the site, including excavations, as well as interruptions in the flow of data from monitoring stations that are supposed to measure seismic tremors and radioactive particles. Tests with any level of nuclear-explosive yield were forbidden in 1996 by the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which China and the US say they are abiding by.
But neither country has ratified the treaty, and some analysts say the US would be better off trying to resolve the dispute through diplomacy instead of airing unproven accusations. "The most effective way to resolve concerns about very low-yield nuclear explosions and enforce compliance ... is for the United States—and China—to ratify the treaty and help bring it into force," says Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association. "When it does, states have the option to demand intrusive, short-notice on-site inspections." The US hopes to open nuclear talks with Beijing, but American officials are still trying to unravel mysteries surrounding China's "unclear doctrine for using nuclear weapons, its rising capacity to make nuclear explosives, and its development of anti-satellite operations," Foreign Policy notes. (Read more China stories.)