- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 16, 2011

China’s Sun Tzu secrecy

A classified State Department cable made public recently finally has shed some light on persistent Chinese military secrecy and its refusal to hold nuclear talks with the United States: China fears discussing its nuclear arsenal will weaken the deterrent value.

The cable, labeled “secret,” recounts a June 4, 2008, meeting between U.S. and Chinese officials titled, “U.S.-China security dialogue working lunch” on strategic security, missile defense, space, arms proliferation and Iran.

Regarding nuclear arms, Richard Davison, at the time the Pentagon policy director for strategic capabilities, provided a detailed briefing to the Chinese on U.S. nuclear weapons and doctrine. He then asked his Chinese counterparts to provide “a comparable level of detail from the PRC on its nuclear modernization plans.”


Among the topics the Pentagon wanted to discuss were “Beijing’s threat perception, China’s criteria for determining the size of its force and the desired end-state of China’s nuclear force modernization.”

Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister He Yafei rejected calls by U.S. officials for Beijing to provide details on nuclear arms, claiming it is a "sensitive issue." "If China reveals the size of its nuclear arsenal, this would eliminate its deterrent value," he said. (Associated Press)
Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister He Yafei rejected calls by U.S. officials for ... more >

Defense officials have said the Chinese for the past decade refused to provide such details on the nuclear arsenal, which remains shrouded in secrecy and is continuing to grow.

Mr. Davison said that “China is actually increasing the size of its nuclear force, even as the other four permanent members of the U.N. Security Council are cutting theirs.”

The Chinese refused to talk. Chinese Navy Capt. Guan Youfei, a senior Defense Ministry official, declined to answer the Pentagon official’s questions, saying only that China would hold a nuclear dialogue in the future. He repeated Beijing’s long-stated policy of not being the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict.

China’s Assistant Foreign Minister He Yafei then rejected the U.S. officials’ calls for China to provide details on nuclear arms, claiming it is a “sensitive issue” and that the Chinese officials present “do not know the size of China’s nuclear arsenal.”

Mr. He then revealed why China opposes nuclear talks. “Now is not the time,” he said, “for China to tell others what we have,” adding that “if China reveals the size of its nuclear arsenal, this would eliminate its deterrent value.”

The cable then noted China’s strategy of not disclosing details about its nuclear arms:

“In a moment of candor that harkened back to Sun Tzu’s admonition to conceal your strengths and weaknesses from an adversary, [Assistant Foreign Minister] He flatly stated that China does not favor displaying the same transparency regarding nuclear weapons holdings or delivery platforms that the United States, UK, and France have shown, since doing so would eliminate the value of China’s strategic deterrent.”

China continues to reject U.S. requests for nuclear talks, most recently last month when Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates asked Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Liang Guanglie to hold strategic talks. Gen. Liang dismissed Mr. Gates’ offer for talks by saying he would study it and that other forums already could be used.

New strike bomber

Two years after Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates shelved plans for a new long-range bomber, the Pentagon announced on Monday it will spend $3.7 billion on80 to 100 new high-tech stealth bombers capable of being piloted remotely or with an onboard crew.

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