The Chinese media released a video recently that directly threatens neighboring Japan with a nuclear strike. The video declares: “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.”
This real threat is being waged against a non-nuclear state and it is coming from a nation that has had a long-time “no first use” nuclear policy. This is a clear move from a previous strategy of minimum deterrence. Some might wonder whether the producers of the video went “rogue” in their production of the video. But that is hard to imagine considering the control that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has in the nation. And according to other reports, the CCP reposted the video on their own channel.
The use of nuclear coercion does not coincide with a minimum deterrence strategy that aims to lessen military aggression. A state using a minimum deterrence strategy will generally possess just enough deliverable and survivable nuclear weapons to make sure it can achieve a successful retaliatory strike.
Instead, China is now using a Hybrid Warfare strategy which is defined as “a continuation of foreign policy, utilizing a combination of unconventional hard power and/or subversive instruments to achieve strategic objectives.”
Here is what China has already done in this Hybrid Warfare strategy with Taiwan: It has made nuclear threats against Japan as a warning against allied intervention; it has consistently conducted incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone using fighters and bombers; it has executed numerous cyber-attacks against Taiwan; it has released propaganda threatening Taiwan, and President Xi Jinping has pledged to “reunify” Taiwan with China and “smash” any attempts at formal independence.
China’s goal has likely been to weaken Taiwan’s resistance and alliances so that it is easier for the CCP to annex the island.
China is leaning on an ancient strategy from philosopher Sun Tzu who stated, “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”
The ultimate Chinese goals of this strategy are for the Taiwanese people to realize that resistance is futile and willingly “reunify” with mainland China without a fight. They also desire for Taiwan’s allies to realize that the protection of Taiwan is not worth the cost.
China’s nuclear threat is especially dangerous because of the capability that is behind it. China has deployed nuclear DF-21 medium-range ballistic missiles and nuclear DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missiles that have the range to strike any target in Japan.
China is modernizing its nuclear structure and using it to coerce other nations. Their previous “no first use” policy only allowed the use of nuclear weapons in retaliation for a nuclear strike. Now the U.S. and its allies must disregard China’s “no first use” claims in order to clearly establish strategies to counter nuclear coercion and deter possible Chinese use of nuclear weapons.
The United States is really the only power with sufficient capability to combat China in relation to Taiwan. So it seems critical that the U.S. send clear signals to deter China and reassure the allies.
The U.S. might need to consider all options, including negotiations with Japan to deploy land-based nuclear medium or intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Japanese territory. The U.S. should also recommit to negotiations with Japan regarding the deployment of an Aegis Ashore or Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic missile system.
President Xi of China needs to understand without a doubt that any use of nuclear weapons or the invasion of Taiwan will have costs outweighing the benefits. The first action taken by the U.S. and its allies must be the recognition that China has moved on from its minimum deterrence strategy.