- The Washington Times - Friday, May 11, 2001

China is stepping up preparations for an underground test at its Lop Nur nuclear weapons testing facility, according to U.S. intelligence officials. A test could be carried out in the next several days, they said.
Vehicle activity at the test site in the remote western province of Xinjiang was detected by spy satellites last week, said officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Intelligence reports of the upcoming test coincide with the resumption Monday of U.S. reconnaissance flights near China, which could be used to detect intelligence related to the test, the officials said.
The officials said they did not know if the RC-135 Rivet Joint flight on Monday was looking for electronic signals in eastern China that may be related to the test, but RC-135s have collected nuclear testing information from the Chinese in the past.
China is believed to be working on development of a new small warhead based on the design of the U.S. W-88 nuclear warhead. China obtained secret design information on the W-88 through espionage in the United States, according to U.S. intelligence reports.
Asked about the upcoming test, Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, would not comment directly.
"Its my judgment the Chinese will benefit immensely from what went on at Los Alamos and Livermore," Mr. Shelby said of Chinese espionage activities at U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories.
"In the years to come, you will see a modernization of their nuclear weapons and a lot of it will be based on our models, including the W-88," he said, noting that when the Chinese succeed in developing their nuclear arms it will be a "quantum leap" in their strategic power.
Test preparations at Lop Nur were first reported by The Washington Times on April 9, after U.S. intelligence agencies detected the first signs of an impending nuclear test in March.
Officials said the upcoming test, which could take place before the end of the month, may be a "subcritical" nuclear test — a small explosion designed to simulate a nuclear blast.
Other officials suspect the Chinese will carry out a small nuclear test despite their pledge to have stopped all nuclear testing in 1996.
U.S. intelligence agencies suspect China is engaged in covert nuclear testing that relies on small, low-yield underground blasts. The suspicions are based on intelligence reports indicating Beijings agents purchased special containment equipment from Russia several years ago that masks the effects of underground nuclear tests.
The last Chinese nuclear-related test took place in 1999, shortly before a senior State Department official delivered an apology to Beijing for the accidental bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, during the NATO aerial bombing campaign.
Meanwhile, the Chinese government yesterday defended its use of aircraft to intercept U.S. surveillance flights near its coast and said they threaten its security.
The surveillance is "a grave threat to Chinas security," Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi told reporters in Beijing.
Chinese jet fighters did not challenge the RC-135 flight Monday, but Mr. Sun said sending jets to monitor the planes is "necessary and very reasonable." He said the United States should "learn from the past" to avoid further incidents.
U.S. surveillance flights were halted after the April 1 collision between a U.S. EP-3E aircraft and a Chinese F-8 interceptor. The F-8 crashed and its pilot was killed after the collision. The EP-3E made an emergency landing on Chinas Hainan island and the crew was held 12 days before being released.
Mr. Sun said again yesterday that China will not allow the U.S. aircraft to be repaired and flown off.
"Due to the nature of the plane, it will not be allowed to fly back from Hainan to the United States," he said. "The specific means of transporting the plane will be talked about by the sides."
Chinas Deputy Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said Wednesday that returning the aircraft by allowing it to fly out of China would "further hurt the dignity and sentiments of the Chinese people" and cause "strong indignation and opposition from the Chinese people."
* This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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