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.
First Published: Thursday, April 22, 2010, 13:36