BEIJING — China’s strategic missile forces commander today told Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that China is not targeting U.S. cities with missiles and will not be the first to use nuclear arms in a conflict.
The commander, Gen. Jing Zhiyuan, made the comments in an effort to clarify recent statements by a Chinese general who said Beijing is prepared to strike hundreds of U.S. cities with nuclear weapons if the United States defends Taiwan from mainland attack.
“There have been suggestions of late that China is targeting other countries. This is completely groundless,” Gen. Jing said, according to U.S. defense officials present at an unprecedented briefing on Chinese strategic forces.
According to the officials, Gen. Jing also stated that China agreed in 2000 not to target any other nation and said its nuclear weapons are under safe and secure control. China continues to adhere to a 40-year policy of not being the first combatant in a conflict to use nuclear weapons, known as “no first use,” he said.
The comments by Gen. Jing, along with a PowerPoint slide presentation by another officer, marked the first time senior U.S. defense officials were briefed inside the Chinese military’s Second Artillery Corps headquarters at Qinghe, north of Beijing.
The visit took place hours before Mr. Rumsfeld met with Chinese President Hu Jintao, who said furthering U.S.-Chinese military exchanges and visits is a “vital” part of developing overall U.S.-Chinese relations.
“The military-to-military relationship is a vital component to the overall relationship between the two nations,” Mr. Hu said during a meeting at the Great Hall of the People.
Mr. Rumsfeld thanked Mr. Hu for hosting his visit and congratulated China on the successful flight of its Shenzhou spacecraft, which returned to Earth Monday.
The discussion of Chinese nuclear targeting followed statements in July by Maj. Gen. Zhu Chenghu, who said that “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.”
Gen. Zhu also said that China is prepared for the destruction of all cities east of central China in a conflict over Taiwan and that “of course the Americans will have to be prepared that hundreds … of cities will be destroyed by the Chinese.”
Chinese officials later said Gen. Zhu’s comments did not reflect the government’s view but did not refute them.
The briefing for Mr. Rumsfeld mentioned strategic missile training, organization and weapons, including the two versions of the new road-mobile Dong Feng-31 missile — the longer-range DF-31A and the submarine-launched JL-2.
One defense official said the strategic nuclear forces discussion was an encouraging start.
“This is an opening we’ve been looking to get into for a long time,” he said.
The various discussions between Chinese officials and Mr. Rumsfeld are part of an effort by China’s government to dispel Pentagon concerns outlined in a recent report to Congress on China’s military buildup.
The report said China’s growing military power, including new missiles, submarines, aircraft and information weapons, poses a threat to regional security.
During his talks with Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan, the Chinese official told Mr. Rumsfeld it was “impossible” for China’s military spending to be greater than $30 billion because the nation is focused on modernization and ending poverty for the 30 million of its 1.3 billion people who are living in poverty.
Gen. Cao, according to officials, complained that congressional restrictions on military exchanges with China had limited the interaction between the two countries.
Mr. Rumsfeld replied that even though Congress has restricted U.S. military contacts because of concerns that China could gain war-fighting information, more could be done under current guidelines, the officials said.
The Second Artillery Corps is China’s strategic and conventional missile forces command, which has an estimated 90,000 troops and is a separate branch of the Chinese military. Gen. Jing, the commander, is part of the Communist Party Central Military Commission, headed by Mr. Hu, that has ultimate authority to use nuclear weapons.
The Central Military Commission ordered Chinese military forces to crack down on unarmed protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in June 1989, killing hundreds and perhaps thousands of pro-democracy protesters.
Mr. Hu described Mr. Rumsfeld’s meeting with Gen. Cao as “intense and candid.” He said military ties are improving but noted that “there is room to expand.” The goal is to improve “mutual understanding,” he said.
A defense official rejected claims that the Pentagon is “foot-dragging” on military exchanges with China as other diplomatic and economic exchanges have increased.
The official said the Pentagon is willing to do more but that U.S. proposals have been rejected by the secretive Chinese military.
A major obstacle has been a lack of reciprocity and transparency on the part of the Chinese, the official said.
“We’re more open and we’re saying we want more transparency,” he said. “They’re saying their ready to do things without being very concrete.”