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“Position Paper on China and United Nations Cooperation” lays out aspects of China’s position on nuclear weapons – its own policies and what it seeks from other nations. (Xinhua/Wang Kai)

China backs ‘no first use’ nuclear policy, calls on nations to cut warhead stockpile

  • Recent statement by former Chinese ambassador for disarmament suggests Beijing should rethink ‘no first use’ policy to counter US military presence in region
  • Position paper marks 50th anniversary of Beijing being awarded UN seat representing China over Taipei
China has underlined its “no first use” nuclear policy in a position paper amid discussion over its commitments in a developing nuclear arms race.
In the “Position Paper on China and United Nations Cooperation” issued by the foreign ministry on Friday, China declared it had a history of initiating the no first use (NFU) principle, and said nuclear-weapon states should abandon pre-emptive deterrence policies.

“Bear in mind that ‘a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought’,” the paper said.

It called on all nuclear powers to reduce the role of nuclear weapons as part of their national security policy, stop developing and deploying global anti-ballistic missile systems and cease deployment of land-based intermediate-range ballistic missiles overseas. It called on them to promote global strategic balance and stability.

Last month, former Chinese ambassador for disarmament affairs to the UN in Geneva, Sha Zukang, said China should review its policy of not being the first to use a nuclear weapon in a conflict.

China pledged the NFU policy – to not be the first to use nuclear weapons at any time or under any circumstance – in 1964 when it first gained nuclear capability.

But Sha suggested that Beijing should now “fine-tune” that policy to counter a US military presence that had grown in the region since America started to regard China as a major rival, or even an adversary.

US accuses China of deviating from ‘minimal nuclear deterrence’ strategy

Besides making a statement on NFU, Friday’s position paper continued to stress that “countries with the largest nuclear arsenals have special and primary responsibilities in nuclear disarmament”, with Beijing also under international pressure to do more in nuclear arms control and disarmament efforts.

In contrast to its position paper on the UN’s 75th anniversary last year, China made no statement about resisting the call to join “so-called trilateral arms control negotiations” with the United States and Russia.

Instead, China asked the countries with largest nuclear arsenals – the US and Russia – to “further substantially reduce their nuclear arsenal in a verifiable, irreversible and legally binding manner” to create the conditions for complete and thorough nuclear disarmament.

The paper said China would stick to its path of “peaceful development and will never seek hegemony, expansion spheres of influence”.

It said China had actively taken part in international arms control and disarmament, including joining treaties, international conferences and mechanisms. It promised to uphold multilateralism while firmly opposing “unilateralism, protectionism, acts of bullying and pseudo-multilateralism such as bloc politics and cliques”.

China ‘may be drawn’ into US-Russia nuclear competition

It also pledged to promote global development, contribute to governance relating to climate change and the environment, protect human rights, increase people exchanges, and combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

The paper marks the 50th anniversary of Beijing being awarded the UN seat representing China over Taipei. On October 25, 1971, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 2758 which expelled “the representatives of Chiang Kai-shek” and recognised the People’s Republic of China as “the only legitimate representative of China” in the UN, under the one-China policy.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: ‘No first use’ nuclear plan underlined by China