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Remarks by H. E. Ambassador Li Song on Nuclear Strategy and Nuclear Disarmament in the CD Informal Session

(14 May 2019, Geneva)

Mr. president,

The Chinese delegation commends your arrangement to have the discussion on the issue of “nuclear deterrence” in the informal session upon the opinions of the member States, since “nuclear deterrence” is not the formal agenda item of the Conference on Disarmament. At the CD plenary session chaired by Your Excellency on March 26, I made it clear in my remarks that the thematic discussion on the issue of “creating an environment for nuclear disarmament” should have taken place under the item of “nuclear disarmament” of the CD agenda. I would like to emphasize that the discussion on “nuclear deterrence” today should also be carried out under the item of the “nuclear disarmament” or “prevention of nuclear war” of the CD agenda. With such understanding, my delegation is willing to share with colleagues China's positions and propositions in this regard.

The nuclear deterrence policy based on the first-use of nuclear weapons is itself one of the greatest threats to international peace and security. Nuclear deterrence targeted against non-nuclear-weapon states is a prominent manifestation of hegemonism and power politics. Nuclear weapons and nuclear deterrence came together by the end of the Second World War. Human society has since then been shrouded in the risk of nuclear war, especially during the Cold War. After the end of the Cold War, the international security environment has greatly improved, but the ghost of the Cold War mentality did not dissipate. It is still in the gene of some major power when contemplating its national security strategy. The pursuit of unilateralism, hyping up of major power competition and geopolitical rivalry, and the search for overwhelming military advantage by the relevant country have continued to worsen the international security environment. With the global strategic stability adversely impacted, and the nuclear disarmament process based on long-standing international consensus seriously undermined, the international community, including the CD members, is deeply concerned.

As former US president Donald Reagan famously said during the latter period of the Cold War, “ A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought”. Since the beginning of this year, we have heard this line repeatedly quoted by many states and dignitaries including the UNSG António Guterres. This is no sheer coincidence. On the contrary, it represents a common appeal from the international community. Indeed, this well-known statement from a US president during the cold war should continue to be advocated today, 35 years since then, as a shared belief and a solemn commitment by the international community, especially nuclear-weapon States.

Mr. president,

China staunchly pursues a nuclear strategy of self-defense, whose basic mission is to ensure that the country is protected from foreign nuclear attack. What makes China’s nuclear strategy unique from those of other nuclear-weapon States is that China was compelled to develop nuclear weapons at a particular time during the Cold War, in order to deter the nuclear threat, break the nuclear monopoly and prevent nuclear war. It developed nuclear weapons not for the purpose of threatening other countries. On the first day it came into possession of nuclear weapons, China announced an equivocal commitment that it would never be the first to use nuclear weapons at any time or under any circumstances, and that it would never use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states or nuclear-weapon-free zones.

Based on the aforementioned defensive nuclear strategy, China has established corresponding policies on the role and use of nuclear weapons, the size of its nuclear force, its nuclear-weapons alert status and nuclear arms control. Also based on the above-mentioned defensive nuclear strategy, China has exercised great restraint in developing its nuclear force and has consistently maintained it at the lowest level needed for its national security. It has never compared its nuclear-weapons investment, quantity or scope with those of other nuclear-weapon States. China takes no part in nuclear arms races of any kind, provides no nuclear umbrella for other countries, and does not deploy nuclear weapons in other countries. Its nuclear weapons are exclusively strategic and it takes an extremely cautious attitude towards the use of nuclear weapons. China’s nuclear policy is highly responsible. Over the decades it has possessed nuclear weapons, China has unswervingly upheld its unconditional commitments of “no-first-use” as well as on NSA, whether in the face of nuclear threats and blackmail during the Cold War period, or in the face of dramatic changes in the international security environment thereafter, and these commitment will not change in the future.

Mr. President,

There is no ultimate victor in nuclear war, only great, or even catastrophic disaster for humanity. China maintains that the nuclear-weapon States should abandon the Cold War mentality and zero-sum thinking, renounce nuclear deterrence polices with preemptive nuclear strike at its core, restrain the impulse to engage in a nuclear arms race, diminish the role of nuclear weapons in national security doctrines. Commitment to non-first-use of nuclear weapons at any time or under any circumstances by all nuclear-weapon States, will no doubt reduce the threat of nuclear weapons as well as the risk of nuclear war. Based on this understanding, China submitted the draft treaty on Non-First-Use of Nuclear Weapons to the other four nuclear-weapon States as early as January 1994, and actively seeks a commitment to mutual non-first-use of nuclear weapons with other nuclear-weapon States on a bilateral or multilateral basis. Meanwhile, nuclear-weapon States should provide unconditional “no use or threat to use nuclear weapons” security assurances to non-nuclear-weapon states. This is of utmost and indispensable significance for further reducing the threat of nuclear weapons, reducing the risk of nuclear war and preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Nuclear-weapon States should also make joint efforts to maintain international and regional strategic balance and stability. First comes advocacy of common security and definition of strategic stability objectives. Second is the continued enhancement of mutual trust and the establishment of a solid foundation for strategic stability. Third is respect for rules and commitments and maintenance of the strategic stability framework. Fourth is strengthened communication and exchange and consolidation of strategic stability and consensus.

It was mentioned by previous speaker that China is not willing to participate in dialogues on strategic stability. This is not true. In fact, China has been actively committed to promoting the five nuclear-weapon States or P5 to enhance dialogue on nuclear doctrines and policies, which is one of the most important consensus of the P5 Beijing Conference. In February, I briefed the CD plenary on the Conference in details. At this Conference, China actively promoted all parties to have an objective assessment of each other’s strategic intentions, respect each other’s security concerns, exercise proper management of differences, prevent accidents and crises resulting from strategic miscalculation , and avoid major power competition becoming self-fulfilling prophecy. China advocated that the P5 should progressively discuss the content and key elements of strategic stability from the perspectives of strategic strength, policy orientation and strategic mutual trust, gradually building consensus and expanding the convergence of their interests.

Mr. President,

Nuclear weapons should eventually be completely prohibited and thoroughly destructed. Nuclear disarmament should follow the principles of “maintaining global strategic stability” and “undiminished security for all”, as well as the step-by-step approach. With regard to remarks by previous speaker on the issue of so-called “China’s participation in the US-Russia nuclear disarmament process”, Chinese Foreign Minister and Foreign Ministry Spokesperson have made clear remarks recently. China is committed to peaceful development. Following a national defence policy that is defensive in nature, China maintains a reasonable and moderate national defence input. Its nuclear force is always kept at the minimum level required by national security needs, which is totally not at the same level with that of the US and Russia. Therefore, we oppose any country's attempt to make an issue out of China on arms control. China does not intend and does not see any necessity to join bilateral talks between the US and Russia on nuclear disarmament.

We all heard the long statement of the Russian delegate, which shows once again that it is necessary for the US and Russia to continue to resolve their differences through negotiations and consultations. We encourage the US and Russia to maintain serious dialogues and negotiations, with a view to preserving the INF Treaty and pushing for the extension of the NEW START Treaty. The US and Russia, as countries possessing the largest nuclear arsenals should, in accordance with the long-standing consensus of the international community, fulfill in earnest their special and primary responsibility for nuclear disarmament and should continue to make drastic and substantive reductions in their nuclear arsenals in the verifiable and irreversible manner. This would create necessary conditions or environment for other nuclear-weapon States to join in multilateral nuclear disarmament process.

China will steadfastly honor the commitments established in the NPT review process with regard to the implementation of Article 6 of the NPT, and continue, with a responsible and constructive approach and through concerted efforts with the international community, to promote the world’s peace and stability, and to achieve the ultimate goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world.

Thank you. Mr. President.

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