China's Security Environment and the Role of Nuclear Weapons

By Weidi, Xu | Carnegie Endowment for International Peace - Reports, October 28, 2016 | Go to article overview

China's Security Environment and the Role of Nuclear Weapons


Weidi, Xu, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace - Reports


INTRODUCTION

China's nuclear strategy is holistic in nature and has been notably consistent, since even before China conducted its first nuclear test in 1964. This comprehensive investigation of the leadership's thinking about nuclear strategy since the founding of the People's Republic of China addresses such key issues as when and under what kind of international strategic environment China's thinking about nuclear strategy was formed; what basic concepts constitute this strategy; why the People's Republic had to develop nuclear weapons after its founding; and how China views nuclear weapons. The investigation, based on the historical evolution of China's national security environment, also explores what political and military roles nuclear weapons play; how China views warfare in the era of nuclear weapons; under what conditions it would use nuclear weapons; how changes in the post-Cold War national security environment have affected China's thinking about nuclear strategy; and how China views international arms control, especially nuclear arms control.

A study of China's thinking on nuclear strategy should be based primarily on the thinking and opinions of Chinese leaders. Thus, the main sources of data for this chapter are relevant speeches by the country's leaders, as well as official policy statements, relevant reports, documents and records, and academic papers.1 Because nuclear strategy is relatively specialized and technical in nature, only a few small teams of people in China study nuclear strategy and nuclear arms control. Academic research on China's policies has become increasingly active in the twenty-first century, and some international scholars who study political science have joined the ranks of those researching Chinese nuclear strategy. Still, compared with other countries that possess nuclear weapons, the number of specialists in China studying nuclear strategy remains quite small.

BASIC CHARACTERISTICS OF CHINESE THINKING ON NUCLEAR STRATEGY

CHINA'S NUCLEAR STRATEGY AS FORMED BY ITS NATIONAL SECURITY SYSTEM

Although China does not generate national security strategy reviews or white papers like those of Western countries, this does not mean that it has no national security strategy. In fact, the political reports from the regular sessions of the National Congress of the Communist Party of China constitute the country's articulation of its national grand strategy. The sections of these reports that address national defense and diplomacy serve as the basic framework for the country's national security strategy, and this strategy is also integrated into the political, economic, cultural, and other sections of these National Congress political reports.

Chinese leaders have consistently emphasized the importance of seeing beyond the way things appear and instead looking at their intrinsic nature as well as grasping the objective laws that govern how things develop as a whole. Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, and subsequent leaders have all studied China's nuclear strategy in the context of the overall global role of nuclear weapons in both warfare and peacetime, as well as in future wars. Furthermore, they have analyzed and addressed these issues within a larger framework of national development and military security. They have not overestimated the role of such weapons. China's thinking about nuclear strategy is the result of its leaders employing a framework of holistic strategic thinking to address issues of nuclear strategy, thus embracing a nuclear strategy with distinctly Chinese characteristics.

CHINA'S NUCLEAR STRATEGY IN LIGHT OF MANY YEARS OF REVOLUTIONARY WAR

Long-term revolutionary war in China shaped how leaders like Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, and Deng Xiaoping saw warfare-namely, they believed in relying on the people and not worshiping weapons. Although the emergence of nuclear weapons brought about significant changes to the methods of combat, Mao believed that they did not change the basic rules of warfare. …

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