Is China Changing Its Position on Nuclear Weapons?

Believing that Communist China would abide by its no-first-use policy is only wishful thinking in the first place. As the United States continues down the path of suicidal disarmament, along with an almost two decade-old force collecting dust, countries such as China and Russia are modernizing their nuclear strategic forces. Within the next few years, they will likely have first strike capability. One shouldn’t expect them to hold back and leverage their military advantage to extract concessions from the USA.

INTERPRETING any country’s pronouncements about its nuclear weapons can be a study in fine distinctions, but occasionally a state says — or fails to say — something in a clear break from the past. A Chinese white paper on defense, released on Tuesday, falls into this category and now demands our attention, because it omits a promise that China will never use nuclear weapons first.

That explicit pledge had been the cornerstone of Beijing’s stated nuclear policy for the last half-century. The white paper, however, introduces ambiguity. It endorses the use of nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack but does not rule out other uses.

The change this year is almost certainly not the result of bureaucratic error. No-first-use has been such an intrinsic part of the Chinese nuclear liturgy that the authors of the white paper would have been extremely unlikely to have forgotten it. Besides, other evidence indicates that a broader rethinking of Chinese nuclear strategy may be under way.

Last December, shortly after being selected as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, Xi Jinping, who last month became China’s president, gave a speech to the Second Artillery Force, which is responsible for China’s land-based nuclear weapons. In the past, borrowing Mao Zedong’s imagery for China’s adversaries, Chinese officials have generally played down the value of nuclear weapons, describing them as “paper tigers.” But in a significant rhetorical shift, Mr. Xi is reported to have said that nuclear weapons create strategic support for the country’s status as a major power. In the speech, Mr. Xi did not repeat China’s no-first-use promise.

Full article: Is China Changing Its Position on Nuclear Weapons? (NY Times)

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