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China ready to use nuclear weapons against US over Taiwan: media

AFP | July 15 2005

China could use nuclear weapons to retaliate against the United States if it attacked in any conflict over Taiwan, reports said Friday citing a Chinese general.

"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," said General Zhu Chenghu.

His comments were reported by the Financial Times and the Asian Wall Street Journal, which attended a briefing with the general organised by a private Hong Kong organisation, the Better Hong Kong Foundation.

"If the Americans are determined to interfere (then) we will be determined to respond," said Zhu, a professor at China's National Defence University.

"We ... will prepare ourselves for the destruction of all of the cities east of Xian. Of course the Americans will have to be prepared that hundreds ... of cities will be destroyed by the Chinese."

Xian is an ancient city in central China.

Zhu said the comments represented his personal view and not the policy of the government. Nonetheless, his threat to use nuclear weapons is the most specific by a senior Chinese official in nearly a decade.

The Chinese foreign ministry said it was "gathering information" on the issue and refused to comment further. The defence ministry also refused comment.

Analysts said the remarks were largely rhetoric but also indicated that Beijing wanted to show the United States it was serious about Taiwan.

"China's leaders, especially the military, think it is important for weaker countries like China to demonstrate their willingness to defend their core interests," Joseph Cheng, a political analyst at City University in Hong Kong, told AFP.

"It's an old-fashioned strategy that is also meant for domestic consumption.

"On the Taiwan issue, the US government tends to adopt a strategic ambiguity approach. On the part of China, it wants to show it is ready to make the sacrifices," Cheng said.

China's military spending has risen at an average double-digit rate over the past decade, hitting 24.5 billion US dollars in 2004.

Despite this, it would still not have the capability to fight a conventional war against the United States, leaving the nuclear card as the only option, analysts said.

Although China has a no first-strike nuclear policy, Zhu said he believed the policy applied to non-nuclear powers and could be changed, the reports said.

China and Taiwan split in 1949 at the end of a civil war but Beijing still claims it as part its territory and has repeatedly threatened to invade if the island formalises its 56-year separation with a declaration of independence.

In March China adopted a law allowing it to use force against any secession moves by Taiwan, triggering concerns in Washington and raising tensions in the region.

Since the United States switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, Washington has acknowledged Beijing's position that Taiwan should be considered an integral part of China.

Yet the United States remains the leading arms supplier to Taiwan because it is bound by law to offer the island the means of self-defence if its security were threatened.

Zhu's comments come ahead of Washington's annual report on the Chinese military and as a string of US officials have raised concerns about the rise of China's military.

The issue was most recently brought up by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who, on a visit to Beijing last weekend, highlighted tensions with Taiwan as a key concern.

She urged Beijing to reach out to the island's elected leadership.

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