Thursday, July 28, 2005

China is building up its nuclear forces as part of a secret strategy targeting the United States, according to a former Chinese diplomat.

China’s strategy calls for “proactive defense,” and senior Chinese Communist Party leaders think that building nuclear arms is the key to countering U.S. power in Asia and other parts of the world, said Chen Yonglin, a diplomat who defected to Australia two months ago.

A recent comment by a Chinese general shows that Beijing’s leaders are prepared to launch “a pre-emptive attack on the country considered a huge threat to China,” Mr. Chen said.

Chinese Maj. Gen. Zhu Chenghu told reporters two weeks ago that China is prepared to use nuclear weapons against “hundreds” of U.S. cities if a conflict breaks out over Taiwan.

The former diplomat, who until recently was posted to the Chinese Consulate in Sydney, said the number of Chinese nuclear warheads is a closely guarded secret.

Asked about a Pentagon report revealing that China has 20 nuclear warheads that can reach almost all of the United States, Mr. Chen said, “We don’t know the exact number.”

“Everything about nuclear weapons is held by a very limited number of people,” he said. “Even sometime vice ministers may not know because it is strictly controlled by the general staff and central party leaders.”

The Pentagon report to Congress made public last week stated that China is “qualitatively and quantitatively improving its strategic missile force.”

“It is fielding more survivable missiles capable of targeting India, Russia, virtually all of the United States and the Asia-Pacific theater as far south as Australia and New Zealand,” the report said.

China’s nuclear weapons are developed and built in secret under the direction of a company Mr. Chen identified as the Nuclear Energy Company. The company builds both civilian nuclear-power stations and warheads for missiles and bombers.

“It sounds like a nongovernment company, but it is totally top secret,” he said.

Mr. Chen, who is visiting the United States and testified before a House committee last week, said that during internal discussions among Communist Party and government leaders and military commanders, military leaders often have urged going to war against Taiwan, a self-governing island — also known as the Republic of China — that broke with the mainland in 1949.

“I’ve heard a lot about the results of those meetings, and most of the military forces leaders advocate the use of force the earlier the better to solve the Taiwan issue,” Mr. Chen said.

He said China’s long-term strategy toward the United States was outlined by the late communist leader Deng Xiaoping in the phrase “hide our capabilities; bide our time.”

“That means don’t draw any attention of the Western world — and especially the United States, to what China is doing,” Mr. Chen said.

China’s leaders fear the current U.S. policy of engagement with China could shift to one of “containing” China, he said.

“If the policy of the United States changes to containment, there will be no Olympic Games, there will be no business and there will be no peaceful rise,” he said.

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