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China Plays Down Warning It Could Use Nuclear Weapons Against US

Keep nuclear weapons in the museum.

Beijing (AFP) Jul 21, 2005
China on Thursday distanced itself from reported comments by a general last week that Beijing could use nuclear weapons to retaliate against the United States if it attacked over Taiwan.

Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said China would not be the first to use nuclear weapons "at any time and under any condition," the official Xinhua news agency said.

"China has consistently observed the commitment since its first nuclear test in 1964," Xinhua reported, quoting Li as saying such a stance "will not be changed in the future."

The rebuttal followed comments reported Friday by a professor at China's National Defence University, saying China could use nuclear weapons to retaliate against the United States if it attacked in any conflict over Taiwan.

"If the Americans draw their missiles and position-guided ammunition on to the target zone on China's territory, I think we will have to respond with nuclear weapons," General Zhu Chenghu was quoted as saying.

The comments were reported in the Financial Times and the Asian Wall Street Journal, which attended a briefing with the general organised by a private Hong Kong organisation, the Better Hong Kong Foundation.

"If the Americans are determined to interfere (then) we will be determined to respond," said Zhu.

Xinhua quoted Li as saying the general was speaking in a personal capacity and was not representing the Chinese government's position.

China had initially responded to the reports by insisting it would resolutely seek to resolve the Taiwan issue in a peaceful manner.

"We will never tolerate 'Taiwan Independence', neither will we allow anybody with any means to separate Taiwan from the motherland," a foreign ministry spokesman told AFP a day after the reports.

"We hope the United States will fulfill its commitments (on Taiwan) with concrete actions and join efforts with China to maintain the peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits."

The United States responded to the general's statement by saying the remarks were "unfortunate" and hoped they did not reflect the views of the Chinese government.

China and Taiwan split in 1949 at the end of a civil war but Beijing still claims it as part its territory and has repeatedly threatened to invade if the island formalises its 56-year separation with a declaration of independence.

In March China adopted a law allowing it to use force against any secession moves by Taiwan, triggering concerns in Washington and raising tensions in the region. The United States is bound by law to offer the island the means of self-defence if its security were threatened.

Meanwhile, the commander of the Guangdong Military District of the People's Liberation Army, Liu Zhenwu, departed China Saturday at the head of a six-member delegation for a visit to the United States at the invitation of the US Pacific Command, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

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