The 2006 edition of Chinese Military Power devotes an entire box to the question of whether China will maintain its pledge “not be the first to use nuclear weapons at any time or under any circumstances.”
The box cites three articles, including an interview with Chu Shulong, an academic at Qinghua University:
While affirming “no first use,” Chu Shulong, from the prestigious Qinghua University, also stated in a July 2005 interview printed in state-owned media that “if foreign countries launch a full-scale war against China and deploy all types of advanced weapons except nuclear weapons, China may renounce this commitment [to no first use] at a time when the country’s fate hangs in the balance.”
Now, I know a little about Chu Shulong—one of his students is going to be a fellow at Managing the Atom next year—and this statement seemed a little odd to me. He just wrote a paper that concluded “China will stick to its NFU pledge.”
So, I asked Gregory Kulacki to grab the Chinese version and I tracked down the FBIS translation.
The first thing I noticed about the FBIS translation was not encouraging: FBIS headlined the article “PRC Expert Warns PRC May Renounce ‘No First Use’ of Nuclear Weapons in War Time,” but the translation of the Chinese title is “PRC Expert: China’s Policy on Nuclear Weapons Remains Unchanged.”
The original Chinese article is pretty unequivocal about China keeping no first use:
The Director of Tsinghua University’s Institute of Stratgeic Studies, in an interview with a reporter from Da Gong Bao expressed, China’s promise not to be the first to use nuclear weapons was extremely clear and firm. As of now, their isn’t the slightest indication that China’s government will let go of this promise. ”(I) have not heard any leader on any occassion state China will change or let go of this position. Never.”
At the same time Chu Shulong provided a hypothetical, except in the case of a foreign power launching a full scale war against China, using all of their advanced (precision) weaponry except nuclear weapons, and the Chinese nation were facing the danger of extermination, China may let go of this promise. But he considers the possibility not very great. “I think what Zhu Chenghu said is the worst possible circumstance, and the worst possible circumstance should not happen”.
[This translation is Gregory’s; the FBIS translation is essentially the same.]
I don’t think noting that Chu “affirmed” the policy really conveys the overall context of the quote. The article is about how there isn’t a real debate over no-first use and how extremely unlikely China would be to use nuclear weapons.
Some people at DIA (though not all or even most) have been making the same prediction for twenty years and they’ve been wrong every year, for twenty years. Seriously, read Special Defense Intelligence Estimate: China’s Evolving Nuclear Strategies DDE‐2200‐321‐85 (May 1985), particularly pages 8-9.
Thinking about those sad dead-enders, desperately casting about for some glimmer of hope, some sign no matter how slight or vague, that this year will be the year that redeems all the past predictions, I am reminded of this scene in Dumb and Dumber, where Jim Carey asks Lauren Holly about his chances with her.
“You mean, not good like one out of a hundred?”
“I’d say more like one out of a million.”
So … you’re telling me there’s a chance!
Yeah, guys, there is a chance.