A senior Chinese general has assured Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that China will not be the first to use nuclear weapons in any conflict. The statement contradicted a threat issued by another Chinese general earlier this year. Secretary Rumsfeld had earlier accused China of sending mixed signals on its interest in military cooperation with the United States, but he later indicated that some progress had been made.
Senior U.S. officials say the commander of China's nuclear arsenal told Secretary Rumsfeld that the earlier threat was "completely groundless," and that China will continue to have a "no first use" policy for nuclear weapons.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, say General Jing Zhiyuan also said China adheres to an agreement signed in the year 2000 with other nuclear powers, not to target missiles on any other country.
Earlier this year, a general was quoted as saying Beijing might use nuclear weapons if the United States interfered with any Chinese effort to forcibly reunite Taiwan with the mainland.
The officials say General Jing offered the assurance during Secretary Rumsfeld's unprecedented visit to the general's headquarters in Beijing. The U.S. officials expressed the hope that the visit would be the start of a new dialogue with China's secretive missile command.
Earlier, Mr. Rumsfeld met with Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan. After that meeting, the secretary said some concerns he expressed earlier about what he called 'mixed signals' from China had been eased.
"We have had an opportunity to discuss some of the, what I would characterize as mixed signals that we feel we have been getting, and to talk about them, and to understand the reaction that one gets when one receives mixed signals," said Mr. Rumsfeld.
Earlier, Mr. Rumsfeld had said there were good political and economic relations between the United States and China, including top-level visits. But at the same time, he noted that China has been reluctant to increase military cooperation.
He also said Beijing had promoted regional organizations that exclude the United States. One such group recently called for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Central Asia that support U.S. military operations in Afghanistan.
The Chinese defense minister acknowledged that military relations have lagged behind advances in other aspects of U.S.-China relations, and he said China is prepared to change that.
Minister Cao said China and the United States need to elevate their defense relationship and build mutual confidence. Secretary Rumsfeld said he and his Chinese counterpart had agreed to take a personal interest in making sure that happens.
The senior U.S. officials say that plan was endorsed late in the day by Chinese President Hu Jintao. The officials say President Hu told Secretary Rumsfeld that military relations are a vital part of the overall U.S.-China relationship, he is pleased they have improved in recent years, and they have the potential for further expansion.
The U.S. officials say that initially, that will likely involve an enhanced educational exchange program for military officers.
Secretary Rumsfeld said it is important to find ways for the United States and China to better understand each other's defense programs. The secretary says China has created concerns in many countries by concealing large parts of its defense spending.
But his Chinese counterpart, Minister Cao, said that China reports all its defense spending, and U.S. officials later described the dispute as partly a difference in accounting methods.