The security situation across the Taiwan Straits is escalating dangerously, with Beijing’s military and coercive measures to subjugate Taiwan seemingly graduating onto threats of forced seizure of Taipei.
July 2021 logs the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Marking the centennial, Xi Jinping, general secretary of the party, issued a war cry in his July 1 speech for the occasion.
Subsequently, the CCP’s military channel carried a televised address in which it brazenly threatened to launch relentless nuclear strikes against Japan. The visual commentary stated:
When we liberate Taiwan, if Japan dares to intervene by force, even if it only deploys one soldier, one plane, and one ship, we will not only return reciprocal fire, but also start a full-scale war against Japan.
We will use nuclear bombs first…and use nuclear bombs continuously until Japan declares unconditional surrender for the second time. What we want to target is Japan’s ability to endure a war. As long as Japan realizes that it cannot afford to pay the price of war, it will not dare to rashly send troops to the Taiwan Strait.
No-first-use and China’s Nuclear Journey
Ever since China went nuclear in 1964, its nuclear journey’s intentional uncertainty has been a consistent feature, at least until now. In my 2014 book, Nuclear China: A Veiled Secret, I argued that Beijing’s resort to creating perennial ambiguity around the development, deployment, quality, quantity, alert status, and potential employment scenarios of its nuclear weapons appeared deliberate.
The uncertainty and concealment which surround its inventory of nuclear warheads remained cannily peppered with sporadic yet well-timed disclosures. In reference to this, the latest CCP military channel report is a milestone revelation.
Beijing announced that it would adhere to a strict policy of no-first-use (NFU) of nuclear weapons (bu shouxian shiyong) at any time and in all circumstances in 1964. It made the unequivocal commitment that under no circumstances will it use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states, or nuclear-weapon-free zones.
While Chinese statements in the past continued to ascribe to a no-first-use policy, perplexity revolved around the scope of the policy and the conditions surrounding it.
Paradoxically, this confusion was given clarity when the CCP military channel’s recent documentary further stated:
Now this international situation has changed dramatically. Our country is in the midst of a major change…not seen in a century and all political policies, tactics, and strategies must be adjusted and changed in the midst of such a major change…. [It] is necessary to make limited adjustments to a nuclear policy.
We solemnly put forward the “Japan Exception Theory.” By singling out Japan as an “exception” to our commitment, not to use, or be the first to use nuclear weapons in the world. Japan is an “exception.” We are warning Japan, and informing the world, that if Japan interferes militarily in our domestic affairs, including the unification of Taiwan by the Mainland, nuclear weapons will surely be used against Japan, and will be used continuously until its unconditional surrender.
The tone and tenor of the commentary appear to be catering to China’s domestic audience, and the delicate political factions within the CCP, especially in the run-up to the 20th Party Congress in 2022.
Inciting Domestic Passions for Expansion
In order to propel nationalistic passion and fervor, the CCP has invoked memories of modern history and the previous wars of 1894-1895 and 1931-1945 in the video. At the same time, it has attempted to justify the “Japan Exception Theory,” saying:
If Japan goes to war with China for the third time, the Chinese people will take revenge on the old and the new scores. Japan is the only country in the world that has been hit by atomic bombs…. Japan has a unique feeling that nuclear deterrence against Japan will get twice the result with half the effort. There will be no peace talks in the meantime…. We will take back Diaoyu Islands and Ryukyu Islands.
The above statements, coming from the military channel of the CCP, could not possibly have gone out without official approvals or endorsements from the highest levels.
The Diaoyu Islands are the name China has assigned to the Senkaku Islands, Ishigaki City, Okinawa. The Ryukyu Islands, also known as the Nansei Islands, are an arc of islands including Okinawa that extend from Kyushu to Taiwan.
This documentary is seemingly just the beginning of a deafening nationalistic rhetoric to increase coercion on the Taiwan issue as part of the strategy adopted by Xi Jinping in the centennial foundation year of the CCP.
Warning to Democratic Stakeholders in the Region
The objective may be to raucously caution the democratic stakeholders and their pledges to salvage Taiwan and its democratic survival in face of the threatened imminent incoming Chinese communist siege.
Pertinent in this regard are the joint leaders’ statement from the Japan-United States Summit in Washington in April, and the Carbis Bay G7 Communique in June 2021, in which the participating countries “underscore the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues.”
It needs to be recalled that the Taiwan issue has been building all year. United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi’s March 2021 meeting brought them to an understanding in principle to closely cooperate in the event of a military clash between China and Taiwan.
In the past too, there were looming questions regarding China’s nuclear no-first-use pledge, in particular whether China’s commitment would apply to its perceived territorial claims. By citing the “Japan Exception Theory” and inciting the threat to “take back the Diaoyu (Senkaku) Islands and Ryukyu Islands,” China has effectively announced its renunciation of the universal no-first-use policy for nuclear weapons.
Simultaneously, its latest pronouncements have confirmed that the threat of war around the Taiwan Straits is greater, and coming sooner than expected. Most of all, China’s deceitful propaganda of a “peaceful rise” stands exposed, yet again.
Author: Dr. Monika Chansoria
Dr. Monika Chansoria is a senior fellow at The Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA) in Tokyo. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of The Japan Institute of International Affairs or any other organization with which the author is affiliated. She tweets @MonikaChansoria. Find other articles by Dr. Chansoria here on JAPAN Forward.