The Bush administration Friday labeled as "highly irresponsible" a Chinese general's reported threat to use nuclear weapons if the United States became involved in a conflict over Taiwan. The State Department said it hoped the remark did not reflect official Chinese policy.
Officials here are responding in measured tones to an assertion by a Chinese general that Beijing would resort to the use of nuclear weapons if the United States became involved in a cross-strait conflict over Taiwan.
Two newspapers quoted Chinese Army Major General Zhu Chenghu as making the remarks Thursday in Beijing to a group of Hong Kong-based correspondents.
The general, on the faculty of China's National Defense University, said he believed China would have to respond with nuclear weapons if the United States used precision conventional arms against Chinese forces near Taiwan.
He said he was expressing his personal views and not the official policy of Beijing, which has long said it would not initiate the use of nuclear weapons in any conflict.
At a news briefing here, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack called the remarks "highly irresponsible" and said he hoped they did not reflect the views of the Chinese government:
"The United States is not a threat to China," said Sean McCormack. "We have a broad and deep relationship in which we try to work closely with the Chinese government on a variety of issues. The secretary has talked about the fact that this relationship is probably the best U.S.-China relationship we've seen in quite some time. There are mixed elements to it. But again she was just there and had good discussions with the Chinese leadership."
Mr. McCormack called overall relations with China good and constructive and said the remarks of General Zhu were unfortunate.
A senior official who spoke to reporters here said he was unaware of any U.S. diplomatic complaint about the general's remarks beyond the spokesman's comments.
Taiwan has long been a point of friction between Washington and Beijing. The United States has no formal defense commitment to Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province.
But it is committed to providing Taiwan with defensive weapons under an act of Congress approved in 1979 at the time U.S. diplomatic recognition was switched from Taiwan to the mainland.
U.S. officials have long stressed the need for a peaceful resolution of the China-Taiwan dispute, while being vague about what the United States might do in the event of hostilities between them.
Secretary of State Rice visited Beijing as part of the Asian trip she completed earlier this week.
Spokesman McCormack said Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick will be traveling there later this month to begin a strategic dialogue with the Chinese leadership.