Security & Military

China’s Misleading Nuclear Policy

The first use of nuclear weapons was launched with an atomic bomb by the US on August 6, 1945 in Hiroshima and on August 9 in Nagasaki of Japan. This first nuclear power was the end of World War II, and the beginning of the Cold War. Because the whole world saw the effect of this powerful weapon and they wanted to have the same power. Immediately afterwards, the Soviet Union in 1949, the United Kingdom in 1952, France in 1960 and China in 1964 had the power of nuclear weapons. Until recently, China has conducted 45 nuclear tests, including thermonuclear weapons and a neutron bomb. Today, China has 260 warheads, which can be launched by air, land and sea-based distribution systems.

China began to develop nuclear weapons with Soviet aid in the late 1950s. When the first nuclear weapons test was carried out in 1964, China’s goal was to deter America and the Soviet Union. As a matter of fact, China, which could not get Soviet support after a certain point, continued the process of developing nuclear weapons rapidly. Because he wanted to break the monopoly of superpowers over nuclear weapons. They have already made remarkable progress in this area. In 1966 they launched the first hydrogen bomb and in 1967 they successfully tested.

China continued to conduct these tests until 1996 when it signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty(CTBT). An agreement with the CTBT aimed at prohibiting all nuclear explosions, but eight states did not enter into force because they did not ratify it. Prior to this agreement, China signed the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons agreement in 1992. This agreement, on the other hand, aims to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and to ensure nuclear disarmament. According to the agreements, China seems to prove that they want to use nuclear weapons only as a deterrent.

China’s only purpose is to prevent from using or threatening nuclear weapons against China. We read this from China’s 2013 military doctrine, “The Science of Military Strategy.” When we examine the doctrine in general, we can summarize that China wants to implement its “no first use” (NFU) policy in three main articles.

  1. China will not use nuclear weapons to threaten or attack to states who don’t have nuclear weapons.
  2. China will not use nuclear weapons to respond to any conventional attacks.
  3. China will use its own nuclear weapon after they approved the nuclear weapon coming from the other side.[1]

China has a different perspective on the use of nuclear power. From what we have learned from The Science of Military Strategy, China believes that attacking cities will cause a great loss of life and will break the enemy’s will. And so it goes on: In principle, there are two targets for nuclear attacks which are military and urban. Politically, it is more acceptable to attack the enemy’s military targets. In this way, this tactic will be more profitable in maintaining control in the event of war. But targeting cities will cause great damage and loss of life for the enemy society. [2]

Furthermore, China Defense White Paper in 2008 mentions the use of Second Artillery Force. Likewise, they mentions that China will not be the first to use nuclear power without an attack from the other side. If China is attacked by a nuclear attack, the Second Artillery Force will be used.[3] Similarly, the White Paper in 2010 mentions that China has not escaped any obligations for nuclear disarmament, and that it will not violate its no-first-use policy regardless of time and conditions.[4] And lastly, in the 2015 China Military Strategy, the same things are repeated and it is underlined once again that nuclear weapons can only be used for protection under the name of national sovereignty and defense. [5]

But with the shifting balances in the 21st century and with some leaked news, many analysts question whether China’s view of nuclear power has changed.  Because today, China’s nuclear forces and strategy are changing. China believes that the ballistic missile defense system needs to be taken into account in reshaping China’s nuclear strategy, because they believes the American missile defense project will never end.[6]

After a published report by Phillip Karber, another topic of discussion suggests that China’s NFU policy is no longer implemented. Because in this report, Phillip claims that China have a comprehensive tunnel in which to hide its nuclear weapons.[7] Later, in the Washington Post, a news report titled “Georgetown students shed light on China’s tunnel system for nuclear weapons” was a visual explanation that was organized according to what the students told. In summary, this report says that the debates on China’s nuclear stocks and the size of nuclear armed missile forces continues, and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been building underground tunnels to protect and hide military assets since the early 1950s. Other experts, such as Phillip Karber, have stated that these tunnels have a much greater capacity to store nuclear weapons. PHOTO

In addition, another evaluation from the US military states that Russia, China, Iran and North Korea have implemented international military denial and deception programs. They states that these four states are trying to develop denial and deception tactics for road-mobile missile and cruise missiles.[8] Even though we think that unilateral assessments are not evidence,  China conducted a series of nuclear tests until 1996, despite the signing of the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons agreement in 1992. China was working to complete the testing of modern thermonuclear weapons before signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996. Today, they have already begun to work on smaller thermonuclear warheads.

According to the Nuclear Posture Review of 2018, China is modernizing and expanding its nuclear powers. They emphasized that China is pursuing new nuclear capabilities to achieve certain national security goals. They even say that China is becoming increasingly aggressive, not only in the nuclear field, but also in space and cyber space. According to the report published by the Defense Intelligence Agency on ‘Chinese Military Force’ in 2019, China says that new generation mobile missiles have been developed with warheads consisting of independently targeted and multiple target vehicles.

As a result, China continues to nuclear weapons. China intimidates other states with its NFU policy. We don’t know if China will be the first to use the nuclear weapon in the future, but China has enough deterrent power to prevent any state from using nuclear power it against themselves.

[1] Gregory Kulacki. “The Chinese Military Updates China’s Nuclear Strategy,” Union of Concerned Scientists, March 2015.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Chinese State Council Information Office, China’s National Defense in 2008,

[4] People’s Republic of China Information Office of the State Council, China’s National Defense in 2010, March 31, 2011, p. 35.

[5] People’s Republic of China Information Office of the State Council, “China’s Military Strategy,” Xinhu, May 26, 2015, Strategic Guideline for Active Defense, 05/26/content_4586748.htm

[6] Lora Saalman, “Prompt Global Strike: China and the Spear,” Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies,

[7] Philip A. Karber, “Strategic Implications of China’s Underground Great Wall,” Georgetown University Asian Arism Control Project, September 11, 2011

[8] Annual Threat Assessment, Senate Armed Services Committee, 113th Congress 15 (2014) (statement of Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn, U.S. Army, Director of the DIA)

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