WASHINGTON, DC—Satellite photographs have revealed the recent test-detonation of several hundred extremely small explosive devices in the remote Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region of Southwestern China, sources from the U.S. Department of Defense reported Monday.
"The tests, combined with evidence that factory buildings in this area are operating at capacity, indicate a massive buildup in China's already substantial fireworks arsenal," Army festive-munitions expert Ronald Dowdy said. "We have also recorded an increase in the amount of cording, nitrides, and gaily colored paper being shipped to Jiangxi, Liaoning, and Hubei. Since China is already in possession of enough fireworks to delight the entire world 50 times over, we can only assume that they're gearing up for an imminent celebration of unprecedented size."
The Pentagon reports that the current Chinese fireworks arsenal, which is known to include land-based firecrackers, bottle-to-air rockets, and the oft-criticized M-80, is believed to hold a delighting force in excess of 10,000 megafuns—or, in the words of one expert, "almost a billion times the merriment produced by a single cherry bomb."
With the signing of the landmark international Black Cat Limitation Treaty in 1989, the Chinese government committed to slashing its fireworks production in half. As a part of the agreement, adult-supervision officials have been allowed to inspect factories in Jiangsu and Guangdong provinces, which had been converted to sparkler production in recent years.
Recent intelligence suggests that China simply shifted major fireworks manufacturing to other locations.
"These are not the innocent magic snakes, smoke bombs, and snap-pops that China is legally allowed to deploy for inoffensive purposes," Dowdy said. "These are full-blown instruments of mass recreation—whistling pinwheels, multiple-effect fountains, and single-shot shells that launch 80 feet into the air. Why, we've gotten reports of shells in excess of 50 shots, strobing starbursts, and, in the case of The Big Kahuna, multiple tiger tails. I'm not comfortable knowing that, at any time, a major American city could be jarred by a sudden flash and loud report."
According to Dowdy, the Chinese government has refused to acknowledge any violation of international law, claiming that its arsenal is not of an unusual size for the season. It has also defended its fireworks production as a part of Chinese culture.
But U.S. officials have expressed concern that the extremely portable fireworks, packaged in normal shipping containers and labeled as ordinary trade goods, could enter our country in large numbers.
"Despite strict laws limiting their use, a significant amount of Chinese-made fireworks ends up in North America every year," Department of Homeland Security domestic-affairs advisor Beth Galliard said. "We'll be patrolling the nation's rural gas stations, searching for any possible distribution points for these fireworks."
Galliard said that, while she doesn't want to be an alarmist, she has received reliable intelligence suggesting that a major fireworks-related incident on American soil is being planned for early July.
"It's frightening to think that nearly anybody could enter a populated area—say, a picnic shelter or a crowded beach—with a few fireworks and a book of matches," Galliard said. "To create utter chaos, all they'd need to do is place the device on the ground, light fuse, and get away."