China’s nuclear threats are following on the heels of Russia’s threats and should be a US wake-up call
It cannot be a good sign that Russia and China are making nuke threats at the same time
March 16, 2022 2:00am EDT
China’s Ministry of Defense on Thursday threatened to impose the “worst consequences” on countries helping Taiwan defend itself.
“The Taiwan question is purely an internal affair of China, which brooks no outside interference,” a ministry spokesperson told reporters. “No one and no force can stop the historical trend that China will solve the Taiwan question and realize a complete national reunification. To anyone who makes troubles on the Taiwan question: The higher you jump the harder you fall.”
Revealingly, China Military Online, an official English-language site of China’s People’s Liberation Army, translated the last sentence of the spokesperson’s words this way: “Anyone who makes troubles on the Taiwan question will suffer the worst consequences in the end.”
Usually, Beijing’s official English translations soften Chinese texts. This is one of the rare cases where the opposite is true, indicating the Chinese military is itching to use its nuclear weapons.
The belligerent warning was issued a day after contentious talks between Chinese ruler Xi Jinping and Australian officials. The Chinese side was particularly incensed by comments from Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton, who pledged full support for Taiwan. “Whatever we can,” Dutton said, referring to Australian aid to the island republic.
The People’s Republic of China claims Taiwan is a breakaway province. The island, formally the Republic of China, maintains it is a sovereign state.
The disagreement between Beijing and Taipei is a leftover of the still-unresolved Chinese civil war. The U.S. position is that Taiwan’s status is unresolved and must not be settled without the consent of its people. These days, Taiwan’s people overwhelmingly self identify as Taiwanese, not Chinese, and refuse to be forcibly incorporated into the Chinese communist state. Beijing has repeatedly reserved for itself the right to use force to annex Taiwan.
Can it be any coincidence that, after having seen Putin successfully issue nuke threats, Beijing is adopting the same intimidation tactics?
Beijing also promises to use the world’s most destructive weapons if it has to. Its threat on Thursday follows similar warnings.
Last July, the Chinese regime threatened to incinerate Japan over its support for Taiwan. In September, China issued a nuke threat against Australia because it was working with the U.S. and U.K. to maintain stability in the region. Before that, Chinese generals and civilian propagandists had made, over the course of decades, unprovoked threats to destroy American cities.
Vladimir Putin has been issuing nuke threats of his own. Moments before the Ukraine invasion, the Russian president warned of “consequences that you have never experienced in your history.” On Feb. 27, he put nuclear forces on “special combat readiness,” high alert. Russia sortied ballistic missile submarines and land-based mobile missile launchers on March 1 in what was called a drill.
For almost a decade, Russian doctrine has been to “escalate to deescalate” or “escalate to win,” in other words, to threaten or even use nuclear weapons early in a conventional conflict or crisis. As Hudson Institute senior fellow and GeoStrategic Analysis president Peter Huessy told me this month, escalating to win assumes nuclear threats will “coerce an enemy to stand down and not fight.”
Many believe President Biden is not fighting harder to save Ukraine because he fears Russia will use its nuclear arsenal. Can it be any coincidence that, after having seen Putin successfully issue nuke threats, Beijing is adopting the same intimidation tactics?
“Like Vladimir Putin, the Communist Party of China has lost its fear of American power,” Richard Fisher of the Virginia-based International Assessment and Strategy Center said to me this week. “China’s nuclear threats expose the party’s arrogance in the face of perceived American weakness, expose the risk of the lack of a U.S. regional nuclear deterrent, and expose the inadequacy of U.S. leadership.”
In January, Biden agreed with the Russian Federation to extend the New START Treaty, which generally limits deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550. China is not a party to any nuclear arms-control deals and has generally refused to join in any negotiations.
As Fisher, Huessy and others point out, Russia and China could gang up on America to achieve nuclear dominance. China is both developing hypersonic glide vehicles, which can drop out of space and hit American cities, and is rapidly building up its store of ballistic missiles, digging at least 250 and perhaps as many as 345 silos in three separate fields for its DF-41 missile.
A DF-41 is capable of carrying 10 warheads and has a range of 9,300 miles, which means it can reach all the U.S. from the new Chinese sites. The silos, along with hypersonic tests, suggest Beijing no longer seeks only a “minimal deterrent.”
The Chinese military, from all indications, is building a nuclear “war-fighting” capability, hoping to intimidate others into submission. The specter of China imposing “worst consequences” means the U.S. should not remain in any nuclear arms-control agreement as long as China refuses to limit its arsenal. America cannot allow itself to be outgunned.
As Fisher says, China is indeed intent on “murdering” Taiwan’s democracy, and we should not be making it any easier for it to do so.
And it cannot be a good sign that Russia and China are making nuke threats at the same time.