A senior general in the Chinese army threatened to use nuclear arms against the United States in a conflict over the Taiwan Strait, prompting the Bush administration to call the remarks “highly irresponsible.”
“If the Americans draw their missiles and position-guided ammunition onto the target zone on China’s territory, I think we will have to respond with nuclear weapons,” Maj. Gen. Zhu Chenghu said in yesterday’s editions of the Financial Times and the Asian Wall Street Journal.
The comments were the most explicit statement of strategic intent by a Chinese military official since 1995, when another officer, Gen. Xiong Guangkai, implicitly threatened to use nuclear arms against Los Angeles if the United States intervened in a Taiwan conflict.
“If the Americans are determined to interfere … we will be determined to respond,” said Gen. Zhu, head of China’s National Defense University. “We Chinese will prepare ourselves for the destruction of all of the cities east of Xian [in central China]. Of course the Americans will have to be prepared that hundreds … of cities will be destroyed by the Chinese.”
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called the remarks “highly irresponsible.”
“We hope that these are not the views of the Chinese government,” Mr. McCormack told reporters. “The United States is not a threat to China. We have a broad and deep relationship in which we try to work closely with the Chinese government on a variety of issues, and I think that the remarks from that one individual are unfortunate.”
The comments come as the Pentagon is prepared to release its annual report to Congress on China’s military. The report, according to Pentagon officials, will be the harshest assessment since 2000 on China’s arms buildup, which includes a rapid deployment of ships, aircraft, missiles and other high-tech weaponry since 2002.
Gen. Zhu told the papers that his comments were personal remarks and not official policy, and that he did not believe China and the United States will go to war.
A Pentagon official, speaking on background, said Chinese generals normally express only official positions and that Gen. Zhu’s comments represent the views of senior officers.
“These comments are a signal to all of Asia that China does not fear U.S. forces,” the official said, adding that the general may have inadvertently disclosed elements of a Chinese war plan, or the disclosure was calculated and cleared in advance by senior political leaders.
China also is set to conduct its first joint military exercises with Russia this fall that will include the use of Russian strategic bombers, another indication of China’s preparation for a nuclear conflict. Several years ago Russia and China conducted simulated nuclear exercises that involved a conflict with Taiwan in which the United States used nuclear arms and Russian forces retaliated with their nuclear arms, according to intelligence officials.
The statements contradict China’s publicly stated policy that it will not be the first nation to use nuclear weapons in a conflict. Gen. Zhu was quoted as saying he believed the no-first-use policy applied only to nonnuclear states and could be changed.
He said Beijing is under internal pressure to change the no-first-use policy and to announce that it will use the most powerful weapons at its disposal to defend its claim on Taiwan. He stated that “war logic” requires weaker powers to use all means to defeat a stronger rival.
Chinese Embassy spokesman Chu Maoming said that the general’s remarks were his personal views and not those of the Chinese government. “We adhere to the policy of ‘peaceful reunification, one country, two systems’ and are ready to exert utmost efforts with maximum sincerity to realize China’s peaceful reunification,” he said. “We definitely do not tolerate ‘Taiwan independence’ and allow anybody in any name to secede Taiwan from China.”
China’s current nuclear arsenal is believed by U.S. intelligence agencies to include an estimated 45 to 57 missiles that can reach American cities. However, China’s military is rapidly building up its forces and is developing at least three new strategic missile systems, including the DF-31 and DF-31A road-mobile missiles, and the JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
Beijing views Taiwan as a breakaway province but the island has been an independent Republic of China since nationalist forces fled the mainland during a civil war in 1949.
President Bush said in 2001 that the United States would do “whatever it takes” to help Taiwan defend itself, a remark that prompted the Pentagon to renew war plans for a defense of the island from mainland attack.
Pentagon and military officials know very little about China’s nuclear forces and its strategy for employing nuclear arms, such as when would they use weapons and where they are stored. A U.S. intelligence official said earlier this year that China is developing a maneuverable-missile warhead for its long-range missiles that is designed to defeat U.S. missile defenses.