China ‘must be prepared to make the first nuclear strike’ in response to growing US presence in the region and AUKUS strategic partnership, senior diplomat declares
- China should abandon ‘no-first-use’ policy meaning nukes can only be used to retaliate, senior diplomat said
- Sha Zukang argued new Pacific alliances – such as AUKUS – mean China should take a more aggressive stance
- He spoke amid a huge expansion of China’s nuclear forces, with 300 silos thought to be under construction
- China has also upgraded its nuclear missiles and bombers in recent years, as it asserts authority in the Pacific
Published: 12:55 BST, 24 September 2021 | Updated: 13:11 BST, 24 September 2021
China must be ready to use nuclear weapons and should abandon its ‘no-first-use’ policy to push back against new alliances forming in the Pacific, a senior diplomat has said.
Sha Zukang, the country’s former ambassador to the UN, told a summit of Chinese nuclear policy experts that it is time to ‘re- examine and fine-tune’ a long-standing commitment to only use nukes in retaliation as the US ‘builds new military alliances and as it increases its military presence in our neighbourhood.’
Beijing’s current policy – which has been in place since the 1960s – has given China the ‘moral high ground’ but ‘is not suitable . . . unless China-US negotiations agree that neither side would use [nuclear weapons] first,’ he said at a meeting in Beijing last week.
Zukang’s comments – which come as China builds hundreds of new nuclear missile silos – are significant because Beijing often floats changes of policy through senior diplomats. The body he was speaking to – the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association – is officially independent, but has strong ties to the Communist party.
He spoke in the same week the US announced a major new alliance with the UK and Australia – dubbed AUKUS – to provide the latter with its first nuclear-powered submarines, a major technological advancement that is clearly designed to counter-balance Chinese power in the Pacific.
Zukang’s warning also comes in the wake of another alliance between the US, India, Japan and Australia – dubbed the Quad – with Joe Biden set to host the first in-person summit of leaders today. While the four are cooperating on a range of security issues, the growing threat from China is at the top of the agenda.