MELBOURNE, Australia — The response to the recently-released U.S. Nuclear Posture Review or NPR from Asia’s major powers has been predictable, with regional allies welcoming it while China and North Korea have both come out against the document.
Ren Guoqiang, a spokesman from China’s Ministry of National Defense said China is “firmly opposed” the NPR’s characterisation of its intentions towards the use of nuclear weapons, noting China has pledged to abide by a policy of no-first-use of its own nuclear arsenal under any circumstances.
Ren also emphasized that China “unconditionally pledges to not threaten the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states or in nuclear-free zones” and noted that China “has always kept its own nuclear forces at the minimum level required by the national security.”
China’s no-first-use policy was reiterated at the recent Munich Security Conference by Chairwoman of China’s National People’s Congress Foreign Affairs Committee Fu Ying during a panel discussion on nuclear security at the conference, who added that its nuclear arsenal was geared towards “self-defense and minimum deterrence.”
The NPR described China as “a major challenge to U.S. interests in Asia,” adding that the U.S. strategy for China is designed to “prevent Beijing from mistakenly concluding that it could secure an advantage through the limited use of its theater nuclear capabilities or that any use of nuclear weapons, however limited, is acceptable.”
Fu expressed puzzlement at the characterization of the threat from China in the NPR, noting that there “is no reason whatsoever for China to threaten the United States” and urged it to “not use China or any other country as an excuse” to alter its nuclear posture.
U.S. ally Japan has also responded to the NPR, with its foreign ministry releasing a statement attributed to Foreign Minister Taro Kono that expressed appreciation that the NPR “clearly articulates the U.S. resolve to ensure the effectiveness of its deterrence and its commitment to providing extended deterrence to its allies including Japan.”
The statement added that Japan “would continue to strengthen the deterrence of the Japan-U.S. Alliance by closely consulting on the extended deterrence, including nuclear deterrence, through the Japan-U.S. Extended Deterrence Dialogue and other consultations” while continuing to “closely cooperate with the U.S. to promote realistic and tangible nuclear disarmament, while appropriately addressing the actual security threats.”
In contrast, South Korea has not officially responded to the NPR, although an anonymous foreign ministry official was quoted by the Yonhap News Agency as saying that the government sees the NPR as reaffirming Washington’s pledge to “provide extended deterrence to South Korea and other allies” in the face of increasing threats from North Korea.
The NPR’s confirmation that submarine-launched low yield nuclear weapons will be developed by the United States also attracted attention from South Korean commentators, with Park Won-gon, a security expert at Handong Global University, suggesting to Yonhap that “tactical nuclear weapons with low-yield warheads could be used not just in a retaliatory strike following an attack, but also in a preventive strike against the North.”
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has recently held out the possibility that the U.S. may be open to unconditional informal talks with North Korea, while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has also said that he is intent on keeping the channels of communication open with the North.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert has also confirmed that Pence was ready to meet with the North Korean delegation leaders during his recent visit to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea “to drive home the necessity of North Korea abandoning its illicit ballistic missile and nuclear programs” when the possibility of a brief meeting arose. But she added that the North Korean officials decided not to go forward with the meeting at the last minute.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News. He wrote his first defense-related magazine article in 1998 before pursuing an aerospace engineering degree at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia. Following a stint in engineering, he became a freelance defense reporter in 2013 and has written for several media outlets.