Concerns and Responses – A Chinese Perspective on NMD/TMD

Tasneem Jamal

Zhigang Fu

Zhigang Fu 1 is First Secretary Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations, Geneva

Each of the panelists at the Consultation on NATO Nuclear Policy, National Missile Defence & Alternative Security Arrangement, held in Ottawa on September 28-31, 2001, was asked to submit a short paper relating to the topic of their presentation. The other Consultation participants were asked to submit brief papers responding to one or more of the following questions:

1. What changes to its nuclear policies should NATO be realistically asked to make, in the context of the current review, to move it towards fuller compliance with global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation obligations and imperatives?

2. Are there realistic and credible alternative means of addressing the security concerns that underlie current U.S. interest in missile defense?

3. What are the most realistic short-term or interim measures that should be taken by nuclear weapon states and nuclear alliances to demonstrate a commitment to significantly reducing the political legitimacy and value of nuclear weapons in order to contribute to the goal of elimination?

Ballistic missile defense has, since the beginning of last year, stood out as a hot subject in the field of international security, arms control and disarmament. It is duly because of the vigorous development of national and theatre missile defense programs with the aim of their actual deployment and the attempt to amending, and even threatening to pull out from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM). The developments on this front naturally merit our grave concerns.

On September 1, 2000, US President Clinton made an announcement to postpone the decision to deploy NMD. The reasons for postponement, according to him, are 1) the technology is not ripe yet; 2) NMD is facing strong opposition from the international community, including China.

Therefore, it is necessary to get an overall and clear picture of China perspective on US ballistic missile defense systems, i.e. NMD/TMD. It is unwise for US to ignore China concerns and also not in the interest of US to underestimate China possible reactions.

This article tries to elaborate the why (concerns) and the how (reaction) of China to NMD/TMD.


China’s serious concerns on US missile defense systems fall into three levels: global, regional and national.

A. Global Level: NMD vis-a-vis International Strategic Balance and Disarmament and Nonproliferation.

Missile defense systems are not simply building up a fence around the courtyard. Such a fence will have not only wide and far-reaching negative impacts on international strategic security, but also directly undermining the nuclear disarmament process and the international non-proliferation regime, which is eventually not in the interest of US.

A) NMD will overturn global strategic balance and stability and reverse the positive trend that has emerged in world politics after the end of the Cold War.

The ABM Treaty is the corner stone of global strategic balance and stability. It clearly limits the deployment of missile defense systems aimed at protecting the whole territory of its States Parties. NMD, however, is exactly such a system that violates the ABM Treaty. Once NMD is deployed, the ABM Treaty will be dead in essence. To seek missile defense capability protecting the whole territory is tantamount to seeking unilateral absolute security so as to gain absolute freedom in using or threatening to use force in international relations. As a result, the global strategic balance and stability will be shattered, and the international situation will inevitably become further destabilized and turbulent.

B) NMD will seriously obstruct arms control and disarmament process and may lead to a new arms race.

The ABM Treaty constitutes the basis for a framework of the key international agreements designed to reduce and limit offensive strategic weapons and to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The plan to establish NMD prohibited by the ABM Treaty is, in fact, a unilateral nuclear force expansion program. The Russian Federation has stated in explicit terms that if the U.S. violates or pulls out of the ABM Treaty, it will be forced to withdraw from a series of agreements and treaties in the field of arms control and disarmament. Therefore, if NMD is deployed, the achievements made by the U.S. and Russia over the years in their bilateral nuclear disarmament will be gone at once. It will also be detrimental to multilateral arms control and disarmament process. Other countries will not sit by idly and allow their security jeopardized. So may arise various offensive-defensive and ground or space-based measures and counter-measures, which will likely trigger off an arms race.

C) NMD will disrupt international efforts of non-proliferation.

Non-nuclear-weapon States regard nuclear disarmament by nuclear weapon States as the prime prerequisite for them to honor their commitment to stay non-nuclear. As NMD will reverse the process of nuclear disarmament, it will inevitably shake non-proliferation to its foundation.

NMD will also sow mistrust and discord among many countries, which will in turn affect adversely their cooperation on non-proliferation. Furthermore, as missile defense program proceeds, there will be proliferation of sophisticated missile defense systems to other countries and regions. This will be de facto proliferation of advanced missile technology, since the technologies for missiles and missile defense are inter-related and mutually convertible.

D) NMD will inevitably result in the weaponization of and arms race in the outer space.

To pursue missile defense programs is part and parcel of the relevant country long-term strategy to control the outer space. Some of the ABM systems under development will be deployed completely in the outer space, or with the objects in the outer space as targets; and some others will provide target information and guidance for ground weapon systems with the outer space as their bases. The above programs, if implemented, will surely result in turning the outer space into new arms bases and battlefields.

Should the above negative tendencies be allowed to develop without being checked, the outer space will be weaponized, and an arms race will be triggered off in the outer space. None of the scenarios will be good to other members of the international community.

B. Regional Level: NMD/TMD Vis-a-vis North East Asia Security

A) US-Japan Joint Missile Defense will make the security situation of North East Asia unpredictable.

As an important country to maintain the security and stability of North East Asia, China is gravely concerned about the proliferation of missile defense systems to this region, particularly, US-Japan Memorandum of Understanding on the Joint Development of Advanced TMD systems. This is a disturbing event.

Firstly, some advanced TMD systems, which technically speaking are closely intertwined to NMD, have the potential to intercept strategic missiles. Such systems, once deployed in North East Asia, will turn the region into the forefront of the US NMD system.

Secondly, to introduce advanced TMD systems (say, THAAD) into North East Asia will further enhance US capabilities to interfere in regional affairs. This is particularly alarming against the backdrop of NATO expansion, NATO new strategic concept and the growing propensity of the US to use military force in international affairs.

Thirdly, the US-Japanese joint development of TMD systems will accelerate Japan pace of re-militarization. Japan defense budget ranks second in the world after the US.2 To provide Japan with advanced TMD systems at this point will further strengthen its military capability and will certainly make East Asian countries including China that once suffered from Japanese militarism more anxious and alert.

Fourthly, US-Japan cooperation of TMD will not contribute to resolving the nuclear and missile crises on the Korean Peninsular, but rather exacerbate the confrontation among the relevant countries.

C. National Level: NMD/TMD vis-a-vis China Security and Territorial Integrity

Though the US Government has publicly denied that China is a major target of its NMD program, there are some reasons for China to believe this program will have grave direct or indirect impact on China security interests.

First, some US policy makers or congressmen still maintain the Cold War mentality and regard China as US potential strategic adversary only because China political and social systems are different from theirs and that China is becoming stronger and stronger.

Secondly, the intervention of US in Taiwan issue is a possible element of potential conflict between China and US.

Thirdly, US has exaggerated the risk of so-called rogue nations developing long-range missiles with nuclear warheads. The spending of huge resources on developing NMD in response to the exaggerated risk is akin to sing a cannon to hit a fly. The simply and clear fact is that US conventional and nuclear retaliatory abilities are sufficient to deter any country from launching an attack.

Fourthly, the history of missile defense programs and the acknowledged design capabilities of NMD show that the proposed system can be directed against China. Some advocates of NMD have not minced their words in this respect. Peter Brooks, advisor on East Asia affairs of the International Relations Committee of the US Congress, said in the article of Far Eastern Economic Review (7 September 2000) that the major motive driving US to develop and deploy missile defense systems is China missile capability.

A) NMD will downgrade or negate China limited nuclear deterrent capability.

In order to break up nuclear monopoly and counter against nuclear blackmail, China was forced to develop limited nuclear forces with the smallest number of warheads and delivery vehicles among the five nuclear weapon states. At the same time, it should be pointed out that China caries out the policy of no first use of nuclear weapons while US insists on first use. This difference implies that 1) China will not be the first to launch, let alone threaten to launch, nuclear attack against US; 2) On the contrary, China is facing the risk of the preemptive nuclear attack. Therefore, China cannot but retain the right to keep the convincible nuclear revenge capabilities.

Since China nuclear revenge capability is based on the scenario that there are not any nationwide missile defense systems among nuclear states, if the United States deploys NMD, no matter a limited or a full scale one, it will, in effect, render China second-strike capability impotent.

B) NMD and the transfer of TMD systems from US to Taiwan will make the situation across Taiwan Straits unstable.

a) It will make US more ambitious (say, using nuclear blackmail as in 1950 ), to interfere with China internal affairs and the peaceful reunification of Taiwan to China.

At this stage, we do not know whether NMD will be as effective as planned. But what we worry about is that US psychologically feels NMD is effective and thus feel free to use or threaten to use forces in the international affairs or even launch preemptive nuclear attack. In the case of Taiwan, NMD will encourage some people of US to intervene the issue of Taiwan without caring much about China possible reactions, including military measures to reunite Taiwan when peaceful means being exhausted.

b) The transfers of TMD systems to Taiwan will significantly enhance Taiwan offensive and defensive capabilities and thus increase the possibility of declaring independence of Taiwan, which will lead to armed conflicts across the Taiwan Straits.

The US proliferation of sophisticated weapons and the envisaged transfer of TMD systems to Taiwan, such as PAC-3, Aegis and other missile defense systems, together with the provision of advanced early warning assistance, will significantly enhance Taiwan overall offensive as well as defensive capabilities. It will enable Taiwan to directly threaten air-space security over the Taiwan Straits and the Chinese mainland.

More seriously, the provision of TMD systems to Taiwan would increase Taiwan’s self-confidence and possibly lead towards Taiwanese calls for independence. TMD sales to Taiwan would interfere in China’s internal affairs, violate its sovereignty and would be the first step toward the creation of a de facto US-Taiwan military alliance. TMD sales to Taiwan would also violate the 1982 US-China communique on arms sales and would be a form of missile proliferation.


A wise man adapts himself to circumstances, as water shapes itself to the vessel that contains it. – Chinese proverb

As a peace loving and developing country, China is not in a position to conduct arms race with US and it does not intend to do so, particularly in the field of missile defense. However, China will not sit idly by and watch its strategic interests being jeopardized without taking necessary measures. It is quite possible and natural for China to review its military doctrine and a series of policies on the relationship with big powers, Taiwan issue, arms control and nonproliferation, etc.

A. At the strategic layer, preventing NMD from deployment should be the ideal choice, or in the worst scenario, seeking for asymmetric balance among major powers be the realistic and strategic goal.

Sun Tze, the ancient Chinese military strategist said, victory without war is the superior strategy. Taking into consideration of the international reality, the strategy that prevents NMD from deploying can serve in the best way China political, security and economic interests.

B. At the diplomacy layer, both bilateral and multilateral, China encourages all possible elements to oppose US missile defense systems and safeguard ABM.

A) Firstly, in Sino-US bilateral relations, China has strongly and firmly urged US to stop the program of NMD and the proliferation of TMD systems to Taiwan.

China has now put the issues of NMD and the transfer of TMD systems to Taiwan at the top of the agenda in the bilateral high-level political dialogues and the security and arms control consultations. It repeatedly stresses that the issue of NMD/TMD can not only affect the mutual trust between China and US, but also have negative impact on the bilateral cooperation in the field of nuclear arms control, non-proliferation and Asia-Pacific security.

China has tried to and should continue to persuade US to give up NMD program by pointing out that the so called ballistic missile threat from the so called rogue nations or countries of concern are either groundless or exaggerating. And therefore there are no any rational or reason to develop NMD. The most urgent task for the international society is to relax the tension of the hot spots, which is more cost effective than developing missile defense systems.

As Taiwan issue is China domestic affair and its reunification of the motherland is China supreme national interest, the provision of any TMD systems or other advanced weapon systems to Taiwan by any country will meet with strong opposition from the Chinese people. China strongly hopes that the countries concerned undertake not to transfer TMD systems to Taiwan and not to include Taiwan into any TMD systems. Otherwise, bilateral relationships between China and the countries concerned will be severely undermined.

B) Secondly, China has made all efforts to alert the international community about the negative impacts of NMD and seek common ground among big powers or groups of countries to preserve ABM and oppose the development of NMD with a view to strengthening the international anti-NMD forces.

China uses bilateral or multilateral summit meetings, UN General Assembly, Conference on Disarmament (CD), NPT Review Conference and the relevant security and arms control conferences, to elaborate the above mentioned negative impact of NMD and TMD with a view to encouraging the international community, including US allies and even American people, to oppose the development and deployment of NMD.

The issue of NMD has become one of the important elements of the Chinese summit diplomacy. On 18 July 2000, President Jiang issued a joint statement with Russian President Putin on missile defense, in which they stressed that NMD is a cause of profound concern and appeals to give serious attention to the perilous development and take necessary measures to halt it. Elements relating to ABM and NMD can also be found in the Sino-France Presidential Joint Statement and the Statement of Shanghai Initiative, to name only a few.

In CD, Chinese President Jiang Zeming pointed out in March 1999, that the development, deployment and proliferation of sophisticated ABM systems would exert an extensive negative impact on international security and trigger off a new round of arms race. He called for the international community to pay close attention to this and adopt necessary measures to preempt such dangerous developments.

The Chinese delegation to CD, time and again, stresses the negative impact of NMD and the urgent necessity to negotiate a treaty to prevent the weaponization of and arms race in outer space.

In UN last year, with Russia and other countries, China pushed UN General Assembly to adopt by an overwhelming majority a resolution entitled reservation of and Compliance with the ABM Treaty

C. Military Counter Measures

With its strategic security being jeopardized, China will be forced to take some steps in the military aspect, which it is reluctant to take. The realistic or cost effective options for China to take are varied.

According to some western security and arms control experts and analysts, China may accelerate the development of systems that can penetrate a missile shield decoys, shrouded warheads, multiple warheads or increase strategic forces in number.3 Some pointed out that despite the fact China is a developing country, it has the financial wherewithal to build as many missiles and warheads as it believes are necessary to oppose projected NMD plans.4

Since NMD has not been deployed, it is hard therefore at this stage to estimate what military counter measures China will take or afford to take. Nevertheless, it can be sure that China will take, based on its judgment of national and international overall situation, all necessary steps, including upgrading its second nuclear strike capabilities, which it think can best safeguard its supreme national interests.

D. China may be forced to review its arms control and nonproliferation policies it has adopted since the end of the Cold War in light of new developments in the international situation.

China has not participated, and will not participate, in any arms race with any country. However, in a world where hegemonies and power politics run rampant, especially if the continuous pursuance of the missile defense programs goes on or even worse, in a very determined manner, in disregard of the strong opposition from the international community, China will not sit on its hands without taking necessary measures, but rather review its policies on arms control and nonproliferation.

A) Two prerequisites to arms control negotiations

In taking part in any, especially nuclear arms control negotiations, China maintains that two prerequisites will have to be catered for in the first place. That to say the negotiations and the treaties or agreements, which are to be concluded, shall not impair:

1) the global strategic balance and stability, and

2) China national security.

B) Ratification of CTBT

Under such an international environment, will China change its position on CTBT? The answer is no. The Chinese Government is still taking a positive approach to CTBT and pushing the legislation body, National People Congress (NPC), to ratify the treaty. Of course, NPC has to take into consideration of the current international security situation, particularly the development of NMD and the transfer of TMD to Taiwan. The Chinese People cannot but ask: why should we ratify CTBT while our national security and sovereignty is being jeopardized? In the meantime, the ratification by US will be conducive to China’s ratification process.

C) Nonproliferation

Prevention of proliferation of WMD could not be achieved without the common efforts of the international community and must be put under the framework of cooperation and security. The dwindling mutual trust among the big powers, such as China and US, as a result of the pursuit of missile defense programs, will affect their cooperation on the front of arms control and non-proliferation. Without cooperation of other countries, any country, no matter how strong it is, can hardly reach the goal of non-proliferation by only depending on the power of its own or several allies. Any trend or action of unilateralism runs counter to the main trend of the non-proliferation efforts.

D) The Negotiations of FMCT and PAROS in CD

The Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) should be conducive to the prevention of nuclear weapons proliferation and promotion of nuclear disarmament. Based on this understanding, China supports to conclude FMCT through negotiations. However, China is of the view that when a country sticks to the development of missile defense system using the outer space as its important base, the prevention of arms race in outer space (PAROS) is more urgent than the FMCT negotiation. China has to consider the relationship between NMD plans and FMCT. We cannot be tolerated to have our hands and feet bound while others are strengthening their muscles. Therefore, the three major items of CD, namely, PAROS, nuclear disarmament and FMCT should at least be dealt with by the Conference on Disarmament in a reasonable and balanced manner.

III. CONCLUSION: NMD/TMD aimed at others will end up hurting oneself.

Chinese and Russian presidents stressed in the joint statement on 18 July 2000 that implementation of NMD plan would have the gravest adverse consequences for the security not only of China, Russia and other States, but also for that of the United States itself and for the global strategic stability.

In conclusion, China’s position on missile defense systems is serious and lasting, not at all expedient. For the sake of its own interests and others, US should take serious considerations of China’s concerns and responses.


1 FU, Zhigang is the First Secretary (in charge of disarmament affairs) of the Chinese Mission to UN Office in Geneva. The views presented in this paper are totally his personal analysis.

2 According to SIPRI Yearbook 2000, in 1999, the military expenditure of Japan amounted to US $51.2 b (7% of the world total and 45 % of the East Asia total military expenditure). Its military expenditure is even more than the total of Russia and China (respectively US $22.4 and US $18.4 billion).

3 More can be found in the article entitled Look The China Puzzle — Goal: Build a Missile Defense. Problem: How To Handle Beijing, by Bates Gill and James Mulvenon, The Washington Post, March 5 2000, p. B03.

4 Charles Ferguson, Sparking a buildup: US missile defense and China nuclear arsenal, Arms Control Today, March 2000, p. 15.

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