Beijing: China must have a limited nuclear "second strike" force to deter foes from threatening it with atomic weapons, the nation`s main military newspaper said on Thursday, in a rare account of Beijing`s nuclear strategy.
The commentary in the official Liberation Army Daily comes during intensifying atomic diplomacy -- after a nuclear security summit hosted by US President Barack Obama and before an international conference in May about the future of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
China has been gradually modernising its relatively small nuclear arsenal and some critics of proposals to cut dramatically Western nuclear forces have said uncertainty about Beijing`s plans should deter such proposals.
Retired People`s Liberation Army Major General Xu Guangyu said in the newspaper commentary that China wanted a minimal nuclear deterrent and would avoid any arms race.
"China resolutely adheres to a defensive nuclear strategy, and has always adhered to a policy that it will never be the first to use nuclear weapons at any time and under any circumstances," wrote Xu, now a researcher in the state-run China Arms Control and Disarmament Association.
"The most basic feature of China`s nuclear strategy, in a nutshell, is to be a deterrent but present no threat."
The commentary does not suggest China is rethinking its nuclear doctrine, but spells out in uncommonly sharp terms Beijing`s rationale for upgrading its atomic forces.
In an interview, Xu said the commentary was intended to address worries about China`s nuclear stance, especially in Japan, India and the United States.
The United States and Russia this month signed a pact to cut their much larger atomic arsenals, and Obama separately announced a shift in US doctrine, vowing not to use atomic weapons against non-nuclear states that abide by the NPT.
Like all the nuclear weapons states, China is secretive about its arsenal, developed from a first atomic test explosion in 1964. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has estimated that by 2009 China possessed 186 deployed strategic nuclear warheads.