BEIJING — China will not use nuclear weapons first in a military conflict, the foreign minister said yesterday as he tried to quell an uproar over a general’s remark that Beijing might use atomic bombs against U.S. forces in any conflict over Taiwan.
Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said China “will not first use nuclear weapons at any time and under any condition,” according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
Mr. Li said that China has embraced that stance since it developed nuclear weapons in 1964 and that the policy “will not be changed in the future.”
Mr. Li made his comments to a group of academics from the United States, Japan and China, Xinhua said.
Beijing has been trying to reassure the United States and its Asian neighbors since Maj. Gen. Zhu Chenghu, a dean at China’s National Defense University, told foreign reporters last week that Beijing might use nuclear weapons if U.S. forces attacked China in a conflict over Taiwan, also known as the Republic of China.
According to Xinhua, Mr. Li said the general’s comment was “only his personal view.”
The State Department last Friday criticized the remarks as “highly irresponsible” and asked for Chinese assurance that it did not reflect official thinking.
China claims Taiwan, which split from the mainland in 1949, as part of its territory and has threatened to invade if the self-governing island declares formal independence or puts off talks on unification.
Despite its efforts at diplomatic damage control, Beijing also has reaffirmed its insistence that it will not tolerate formal independence for Taiwan — a step that the mainland has said could lead to war.
Beijing said Saturday that China would “never tolerate Taiwan independence” and would not allow “anybody with any means to separate Taiwan from the motherland.”
The three-sentence Xinhua report on Mr. Li’s pledge yesterday did not mention Taiwan.
Mr. Li’s comments came a day after Beijing angrily rejected a new U.S. government report that growing Chinese military ambitions could threaten other Asia-Pacific nations.
Mr. Li said Wednesday that China is “not a threat to anyone” and is intent on “developing in a peaceful way.”