A Chinese general said that if the United States were to attack China in a conflict over Taiwan, he believed Beijing might respond with nuclear weapons, a newspaper reported Friday.
Maj. Gen. Zhu Chenghu, a dean at China's National Defense University, stressed that he was expressing a personal view, not official policy, The Asian Wall Street Journal reported. It said Zhu said he was confident that China and the United States would not go to war.
The Journal said Zhu made his comments to a visiting group of Hong Kong-based journalists. While Zhu is a serving officer, he isn't involved in policymaking or in directing military strategy.
China claims Taiwan, separated from the mainland since 1949, is part of its territory and has threatened repeatedly to invade should the self-governing island declare formal independence.
Zhu was responding to a question about how China might respond to US involvement in a conflict with Taiwan. The United States is Taiwan's biggest arms supplier and could be drawn into fighting to help defend the island.
"If the Americans draw their missiles and position-guided ammunition into the target zone on China's territory, I think we will have to respond with nuclear weapons," the general was quoted as saying.
According to the Journal, he said Chinese territory includes the country's warships and aircraft.
"If the Americans are determined to interfere... we will be determined to respond, and we Chinese will prepare ourselves for the destruction of all cities east of Xi'an," a major city in central China, Zhu said.
"Of course, the Americans will have to be prepared that hundreds of, or two hundreds of, (or) even more cities will be destroyed by the Chinese."
The general said his comments were "my assessment, not the policy of the government," the Journal said.
Zhu's comments could add to tensions with Washington at a time when the United States is concerned about China's military buildup and critics of Beijing are opposing the proposed takeover of the oil and gas company Unocal Corp. by a Chinese state-controlled firm.
Witnesses at congressional hearings in Washington this week criticised the bid by Hong Kong-based CNOOC Ltd. as a strategic effort by China to gain control of foreign energy supplies.
China has a "no first strike" nuclear policy, but according to the Journal, Zhu said he believed that applied to non-nuclear powers and could be changed.
The general said China has no intention of getting into an arms race with the United States, noting the experience of the former Soviet Union as evidence of the futility of doing so, the report said.