(CNSNews.com) - China is prepared to use nuclear weapons against the United States in the event of a conflict over Taiwan, Western newspapers quoted a senior Chinese military officer as saying Thursday.
Stressing that he was giving his personal views, not official policy, Gen. Zhu Chenghu said that "if the Americans are determined to interfere ... we will be determined to respond."
Zhu said China would prepare itself for the destruction of all of its cities east of Xian - a city in central China - while "the Americans will have to be prepared that hundreds ... of cities will be destroyed by the Chinese."
His comments, delivered at a briefing arranged by a Hong Kong foundation, were reported by the Asian Wall Street Journal, Financial Times and International Herald Tribune.
Zhu, who also teaches at China's National Defense University, is reputed to be a "hawk," the papers said, calling his warning the most specific by a senior Chinese official in nearly a decade.
They also quoted Zhu as saying he did not anticipate war with the U.S.
China carried out its first successful nuclear weapons test in 1964 and, according to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, is estimated to have some 400 strategic and tactical nuclear weapons, as well as stocks of fissile material sufficient to produce many more.
The Pentagon is due next week to provide Congress with its annual assessment of China's military power, a requirement of the National Defense Authorization Act.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said during a conference in Singapore last month that China's military buildup and defense spending was threatening the military balance in Asia.
"China appears to be expanding its missile forces, allowing them to reach targets in many areas of the world, not just the Pacific region, while also expanding its missile capabilities within this region," Rumsfeld said. "China also is improving its ability to project power, and developing advanced systems of military technology."
Earlier this year, the Chinese government enacted a law providing for the use of "non-peaceful" means to prevent the formal breakaway of Taiwan, an island of 22 million people which Beijing claims as part of China.
The U.S. is committed by law to help Taiwan defend itself against unprovoked aggression, and is also its primary weapons supplier.
Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.