Chinese Perspectives on the South Asian Nuclear Tests

India's nuclear tests in May 1998 shocked the world. On May 11 and 13, India conducted a total of five tests. According to official Indian statements, the tests comprised three low-yield explosions, a 12 kiloton (kt) fission bomb, and a 43 kt thermonuclear device. The Indian tests triggered a quick response from Pakistan. On May 28 Pakistan conducted five nuclear tests, followed by a further test on May 30. Although some Western analysts have cast doubt on whether the two countries actually carried out the number and size of tests they claimed, India and Pakistan did conduct nuclear testing. These tests run counter to the global trend of nuclear arms reduction and have undermined not only the peace and stability of South Asia but of the world as well.

India and Pakistan have long been regarded by the international arms-control community as "nuclear threshold" or "de facto" nuclear-weapon states. They have now become declared nuclear-weapon states. The nuclear testing in South Asia will inevitably have a serious impact on regional and world politics, security, and diplomacy. This paper, which draws upon Chinese sources, analyzes the motivations of India and Pakistan and the consequences of the nuclear tests.

History has demonstrated that national leadership, time, and diplomatic genius will be needed to solve the thorny issue of the nuclear arms race in South Asia, so closely connected is it to the underlying and enduring Indian-Pakistani hostility. A Chinese source has quoted a senior Indian official as saying: "[t]he Cold War does not end in South Asia." The Chinese estimate that this confrontation will last well into the twenty-first century. How the international community responds to the tests will be crucial in determining whether the nonproliferation norm survives with credibility or is further eroded.


The nuclear crisis in South Asia is serious. However, "crisis" in the Chinese language is composed of two characters: wei--danger--and ji--opportunity. The new international situation, characterized by the coexistence of "opportunity" and "challenge," does hold out some hope that the nuclear arms race in South Asia can be capped. The challenge that confronts the international community is to turn this threat into an opportunity. The international community must move urgently in the matter. China recognizes this challenge and will play its role in this regard.