BEIJING, Friday, July 15 – China should use nuclear weapons against the United States if the American military intervenes in any conflict over Taiwan, a senior Chinese military official said Thursday.
“If the Americans draw their missiles and position-guided ammunition on to the target zone on China’s territory, I think we will have to respond with nuclear weapons,” the official, Maj. Gen. Zhu Chenghu, said at an official briefing.
General Zhu, considered a hawk, stressed that his comments reflected his personal views and not official policy. Beijing has long insisted that it will not initiate the use of nuclear weapons in any conflict.
But in extensive comments to a visiting delegation of correspondents based in Hong Kong, General Zhu said he believed that the Chinese government was under internal pressure to change its “no first use” policy and to make clear that it would employ the most powerful weapons at its disposal to defend its claim over Taiwan.
“War logic” dictates that a weaker power needs to use maximum efforts to defeat a stronger rival, he said, speaking in fluent English. “We have no capability to fight a conventional war against the United States,” General Zhu said. “We can’t win this kind of war.”
Whether or not the comments signal a shift in Chinese policy, they come at a sensitive time in relations between China and the United States.
The Pentagon is preparing the release of a long-delayed report on the Chinese military that some experts say will warn that China could emerge as a strategic rival to the United States. National security concerns have also been a major issue in the $18.5 billion bid by Cnooc Ltd., a major Chinese oil and gas company, to purchase the Unocal Corporation, the American energy concern.
China has had atomic bombs since 1964 and currently has a small arsenal of land- and sea-based nuclear-tipped missiles that can reach the United States, according to most Western intelligence estimates. Some Pentagon officials have argued that China has been expanding the size and sophistication of its nuclear bombs and delivery systems, while others argue that Beijing has done little more than maintain a minimal but credible deterrent against a nuclear attack.
Beijing has said repeatedly that it would use military force to prevent Taiwan from becoming a formally independent country. President Bush has made clear that the United States would defend Taiwan.
Many military analysts have assumed that any battle over Taiwan would be localized, with both China and the United States taking care to ensure that it would not expand into a general war between the two powers.
But the comments by General Zhu suggest that at least some elements of the military are prepared to widen the conflict, perhaps to persuade the United States that it could no more successfully fight a limited war against China than it could against the former Soviet Union.
“If the Americans are determined to interfere, then we will be determined to respond,” he said. “We Chinese will prepare ourselves for the destruction of all the cities east of Xian. Of course the Americans will have to be prepared that hundreds of cities will be destroyed by the Chinese.”
General Zhu’s threat is not the first of its kind from a senior Chinese military official. In 1995, Xiong Guangkai, who is now the deputy chief of the general staff of the People’s Liberation Army, told Chas W. Freeman, a former Pentagon official, that China would consider using nuclear weapons in a Taiwan conflict. Mr. Freeman quoted Mr. Xiong as saying that Americans should worry more about Los Angeles than Taipei.
Foreign Ministry officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment about General Zhu’s remarks.
General Zhu said he had recently expressed his views to former American officials, including Mr. Freeman and Adm. Dennis C. Blair, the former commander in chief of the United States Pacific Command.