'US feared India would follow China in conducting nuke tests'

Amid reports that China was planning to conduct nuclear tests, the US in early 1960s feared that neighbouring countries like India would follow suit and it directed its officials to address India's security concerns, according to newly declassified documents.

Washington: Amid reports that China was planning to conduct nuclear tests, the US in early 1960s feared that neighbouring countries like India would follow suit and it directed its officials to address India's security concerns, according to newly declassified documents.

China conducted its nuclear tests in Inner Mongolia on October 16, 1964.

According to latest classified documents released in the US today, the State Department in 1963 prepared a major report on the potential consequences of a nuclear-armed China.

The report did not believe this event would "alter the real relations of power among the major states," but the US would have to find ways to reassure US allies, in part to forestall "the possibility of development of independent nuclear capabilities by Asian countries (especially India)."

China joined the nuclear club 50 years ago when it tested a nuclear device at its Lop Nur test site in Inner Mongolia.

US intelligence had been monitoring Chinese developments for some years but the lack of adequate sources made reliable estimates difficult.

As prospects for a nuclear test began to appear imminent in the early 1960s, a lively debate commenced within the US government over how soon it would happen and what its implications would be.

Amid questions over whether Beijing would be "truculent" or "cautious" were proposals for taking preventive military action, possibly with Moscow's cooperation, or for finding ways such as reassuring Asian allies and changing the US military posture to adjust to the reality of a nuclear China.

The US feared that some of China's key neighbours like India would follow suit and as such directed its officials to address New Delhi's security concerns including a defence guarantee proposal as part of its effort to prevent India from conducting any nuclear test.

According to the declassified documents, the Chinese leadership sought nuclear weapons because of their experience in confrontations with the United States during the 1950s.

In this respect, the 1955 Taiwan Straits crisis had central importance in Mao's decisions.

In another secret report dated June 1, 1964, the US discussed the possibility of a covert operation against the Chinese nuclear weapons programme.

The report said that the elimination of China's nuclear capability would greatly reduce the immediate incentive for Indian nuclear weapons development and possible subsequent movement by Japan to acquire such a capability.

The United States, however, could not be sure that its action would fully eliminate China's capability and in any case it could reconstruct its facilities.

The report also discusses alternatives such as broad US-Soviet defence guarantees, guarantees applicable only to India and an Asian nuclear-free zone.

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