Chinese soldiers stand guard over a model of a nuclear warhead in a nuclear lab in China's northwestern Qinghai province. Photo: Xinhua

In a rare move, Beijing rebuked the South China Morning Post for its “untrue” report that claimed Beijing had resumed simulated nuclear tests as part of a new arms race with Russia and the United States.

The SCMP report said China had conducted an average of five simulated tests in one month. According to the newspaper, China had carried out about 200 laboratory experiments to simulate the extreme conditions of a nuclear blast between September 2014 and last December, either to develop new nuclear weapons or to verify the condition and effectiveness of weapons reaching the end of their designated service life. 

The newspaper claimed that over the past three years, Chinese nuclear scientists performed more of these tests than their American counterparts had in 15 years, in a race to develop an arsenal of ‘usable’ next-generation weapons.

The US carried out only 50 such tests between 2012 and 2017 – or about 10 a year – according to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

The Hong Kong-based broadsheet is now owned by Chinese e-commerce juggernaut Alibaba Group following a 2015 purchase, and is generally considered a reliable source of China-related information given its background.  

China detonated its first atomic bomb on Oct 16, 1964. Photo: People’s Daily

Citing a military observer, supreme party mouthpiece the People’s Daily dismissed the report as “groundless,” in particular its claim about “five tests in a month.”

“China is just like other world powers such as the US, Russia, UK and France that are all conducting similar nuclear experiments … but such a high frequency is not necessary for any simulated test,” said the paper.

The last time China carried out a nuclear test was in July 1996 in an underground tunnel in central Xinjiang.

Although an international ban prevents nuclear weapons from being tested, the major nuclear powers have been able to continue conducting simulated tests.

The People’s Daily said China had the smallest nuclear weapon stockpile among the five major nuclear powers acknowledged by the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

It is Beijing’s longstanding policy not to use its nuclear weapons to launch any pre-emptive attacks against any country.