The sole reason for Chinese nuclear force was to deter a nuclear attack on China. The development of U.S. missile defense systems, however, has compelled China to take an offensive reaction to this and began to advance its nuclear force. Now, there are two main reasons why a U.S. missile defense system would influenced China’s nuclear force modernization. First, a U.S. missile defense system undermines China’s nuclear minimum deterrence. Second, China continues to view the United States as its main potential enemy because of U.S. security relations in Asia, particularly Taiwan. For these reasons, Beijing’s nuclear modernization will be pursued at the same rate as Washington deploys missile defense systems to keep a viable deterrence.
China’s Minimum Deterrence
Traditionally, China’s nuclear deterrence has been defensive and limited. The former is reflected through China’s no-first use pledge and its complete retaliatory purpose. The later is reflected through China’s minimal deterrence doctrine, which means threatening with "the lowest level of damage necessary to prevent an attack, with the fewest number of nuclear weapons possible.” Admittedly, China’s top leaders, from Mao Zedong to Hu Jintao, have viewed nuclear weapons as tools to deter nuclear aggression or coercion. Mao depicted nuclear weapons as “paper tigers,” but he understood their ability to deter nuclear attacks against China and he was conscious of the danger posed by the American and then-Soviet nuclear monopoly.
Likewise, Deng Xiaoping stressed the deterrent role of nuclear weapons. Referring to their deterrent role, Deng told “officials from the Seventh Machine Industry (Aerospace), which was responsible for developing China’s ballistic missiles,” that a deterrent force was necessary even though China’s capabilities were limited at that time. Later, he provided the requirements that would guide China’s nuclear force. Deng stated that “strategic weapons should be updated (gengxin) and the guideline [for their development] is few but capable (shao er jing). Few means numbers and effectiveness should increase with each generation.”
Today, China’s top political leaders have continued to emphasize the deterrent role of nuclear weapons. In 2002, Jiang Zemin pointed out that strategic deterrence was an important part of international military competition and that all nuclear powers regarded nuclear weapons as the core force of strategic deterrence. Additionally, Hu Jintao stressed that China’s modernization programs had to ensure that nuclear deterrence was “safe, reliable, and effective under any circumstances.” China’s limited and defensive posture towards nuclear weapons has stayed consistent form Mao Zedong in the 1950’s to Hu Jintao today. China continues to believes that it could deter a first strike because it could retaliate with a few dozen nuclear warheads against enemy population centers. A U.S. missile defense system, however, no matter how limited, could...