CHENGDU, China — China on Tuesday renewed its pledge never to be the first to use nuclear weapons in a military conflict, and senior military leaders vowed greater openness about the strengthening of the world's biggest armed forces even as they brushed aside questions on weapon systems and missiles aimed at Taiwan.
China's nuclear missiles "are not aimed at any country," a 105-page report says.
For the first time, the annual defense survey outlines how China would respond to a nuclear threat, saying that it would first put its nuclear arsenal on full alert, a move designed "to deter the enemy from using nuclear weapons against China."
If an enemy nation fires nuclear missiles at China, the report says, China would "launch a resolute counter-attack."
China's long-standing "no first-use" policy on nuclear weapons came under question nearly four years ago when People's Liberation Army Maj. Gen. Zhu Chenghu said that China might launch a nuclear strike on the United States if American forces targeted any Chinese military asset without striking. His remarks later were disavowed.
Since then, China has built hardened underwater bunkers on Hainan Island to protect its nuclear-armed submarines in case the country is involved in a nuclear exchange.
A spokesman for China's Defense Ministry, Senior Col. Hu Changming, said that China and the United States should work together to improve their sometimes-tense military relationship.
He put the onus on the incoming Obama administration, calling on the Pentagon "to remove obstacles . . . and create favorable conditions" for a resumption of military exchanges.
China canceled most senior military exchanges with the United States last autumn in anger over a proposed $6.5 billion American arms package to Taiwan, a self-governed island that China claims is part of its territory.
"Three decades of China-U.S. ties have proved that their military relations enjoy a solid political foundation only when each other's core interests are respected," Hu said Tuesday at a news briefing.
He held up the annual report and described it as an example of greater transparency by China's armed forces, which U.S. officials have criticized as opaque about development.
The 2.3 million-man armed forces have "made great progress" and remain defensive in nature, Hu said, even as they face "complicated and diversified security concerns," including the threat of separatism in Tibet, Taiwan and Xinjiang in China's far west.
Hu and other officers dismissed or only cursorily addressed questions on weapons development, why Chinese arms purchases from Russia have dropped, whether China will remove any of 1,400 missiles aimed at Taiwan and how the People's Liberation Army will address shortcomings in logistics that were underscored during disaster relief efforts after a huge earthquake in Sichuan province last May.
Instead, the officers focused on less-sensitive matters, such as a major military parade slated for Oct. 1 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the founding of modern China.
Col. Cai Huailie, a deputy chief of strategic planning, said the parade would "showcase the modernization, the buildup and the great success of China's military." He said the army would display "a greater variety of weaponry and equipment" than it had at the last such parade, in 1999.
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McClatchy Newspapers 2008