China’s nuclear arsenal must be strong enough to deter any potential US nuclear blackmail
Published: Oct 24, 2023 08:55 PM
China US Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

China US Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

A Bloomberg op-ed on Tuesday advised China ought to focus on energizing its economy and technological prowess instead of massively expanding the country's nuclear arsenal to avoid repeating mistakes made by the Soviet Union. I believe that Bloomberg's article attempts to induce more Chinese people to form the belief that "having nuclear weapons is enough, having too many is useless." It should be pointed out that many Chinese intellectuals have held this view for a long time.

With a background in Russian, I am fully aware that the ultimate disintegration of the Soviet Union was primarily due to its severe economic and technological lag behind the West, resulting in a loss of competitiveness. However, this backwardness was not caused by the Soviet Union possessing a huge nuclear arsenal, but rather because it became rigid in its system and ideology, falling behind the West in terms of ideology. Eventually, the country fell into ideological chaos, the leadership of the party was undermined, and the nation and society lost cohesion, leading to its collapse. If the development of military power, including nuclear weapons, took up too many resources in the Soviet Union, then this factor certainly ranks quite low among the reasons for the Soviet Union's disintegration.

The Soviet Union engaged in a comprehensive strategic confrontation with the US when its national strength was clearly insufficient, pushing itself into a situation where it was unable to cope, resulting in a series of difficulties and internal tensions. This is also a major lesson.

China must possess a more powerful nuclear arsenal because the US has already identified China as its "top competitor," and increasing military pressure on China is one of its inevitable means of containment. China's nuclear arsenal must be strong enough to eliminate the possibility of nuclear blackmail from the US. To achieve this, our second-strike capability needs to be highly credible and powerful. This capability should make the political elites in Washington tremble just by thinking about it and effectively suppress any impulse of the US hawks to threaten China in an extreme way.

If China's nuclear weapons remain at the level of the early days of reform and opening-up, then once a crisis occurs in the Taiwan Straits or the South China Sea, the US may hold a very tough and brutal attitude toward China and even demand that China retreat by way of "ultimatum." When China's nuclear warheads exceed a thousand, the US' attitude toward the Chinese military will fully return to rationality, stabilizing the "normal way" to solve the dispute between China and the US.

Of course, this is only one aspect of the problem: We need to build a strong capacity of deterrence against the US, but we can't immerse ourselves in it, treating it as the overwhelming line of our competition with the US and building our thinking and social governance around it. Military deterrence is only a bulwark against US bullying of China; it cannot replace China's efforts to catch up and compete with the US in all aspects of the economy, science and technology, and social vitality. What ultimately determines the China-US competition and China's long-term political outlook is whether China's comprehensive social development can yield achievements that will make the country's people proud and also benefit from them. The Soviet Union did a good job of deterring the US, but lost in this area and disappointed its citizens and the entire Eastern Europe bloc greatly. That is why, with as many nuclear weapons as the US possessed, it still headed for self-destruction.

In my view, China is generally very clear-headed, and we have not raised a global "anti-American flag;" our struggle against the US is mainly focused on defending China's legitimate interests, especially the well-known core national interests. China's military power still falls short of that of the US, but it is relatively abundant when it is used to defend our core national interests. For example, China's attitude has aroused real fear from the US on the Taiwan question. Currently, if the Chinese military were to go deep into the Pacific, or even to the Caribbean to confront the US military, we would be vulnerable. But if the US military comes to the Taiwan Straits and the South China Sea, they would be vulnerable. 

China engages in any necessary conflict with the US rather than taking an "anti-American path." We are dedicated to upholding normal economic and commercial ties with the US and the West and fostering various forms of collaboration. China's military expenditure as a proportion of GDP is still much lower than that of the US and many other major military powers in the world. In other words, China is investing more funds in advancing economic and technical advancement and improving the standard of living of its people. This is very different from the situation when the proportion of Soviet Union's military expenditure exceeded that of the US. Additionally, China adheres to a socialist market economy, not only learning advanced technology from the West but also being open to Western experiences at the institutional level without allowing ideology to create an information cocoon. China is generally a highly open society.

However, China has not done everything perfectly. Objectively speaking, the struggle between China and the US has had a counteractive and squeezing effect on the internal dynamics of both countries, and the sense of security crisis has permeated other areas. The US has been quite excessive when guarding against China. Conversely, because we have more demands to guard against American subversion, there is also an exaggeration of the sense of security crisis in some social areas. With a natural linkage and fermenting effect, this situation requires us to be highly vigilant.

Some scholars have said that as security risks increase, Chinese society will be destined to gradually become more conservative. We must break this logic. To ensure our long-term competitiveness in unprecedented strategic challenges and unify the entire nation in a complex international environment, Chinese society needs to minimize the loss of internal vitality caused by precautions between China and the US while maximizing the release of creativity. We need to coordinate the relationship between short-term and long-term security, ultimately putting the US at risk of becoming "another Soviet Union," rather than ourselves.

Bloomberg's article is trying to deceive the Chinese people, which is wishful thinking. Let us all be fully awake and continuously achieve comprehensive development under the leadership of the Communist Party of China. We need to not only become stronger militarily but also continue to create remarkable achievements in globally striking economic and social development.

The author is a Chinese media professional. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn