When the Chinese People's Republic exploded an atomic bomb last October, it opened a new and dangerous phase in the atomic era. It is true that this original test-like the one that followed in May-had no immediate military significance, but it had considerable political and psychological impact- though less than had been expected. It is as a portent of the future that the mushroom cloud over West China has crucial importance for the peace and security of the world. All previous atomic testing has been carried out by industrial powers of the Occident; Communist China is non-Western, non- white and only semi-industrialized. The government in Peking is, by its own declarations, more revolutionary than that of the Soviet Union. Furthermore, the Chinese Communist Party is strongly nationalistic and ambitious. To support its foreign policy objectives, Communist China already possesses the largest, though certainly not the best equipped, conventional armed forces in the world. Now it is placing the highest priority on the development of a nuclear capability.

That the long delayed explosion had less effect than specialists had anticipated was due in part to foreign "discounting" and to a growing understanding of the vital difference between initial nuclear tests and a developed atomic capability. The United States and other nations warned of the approaching test and it proved to be poorly timed from a propaganda standpoint. Peking probably hoped to set off its first explosion on October 1, to mark the fifteenth anniversary of the régime; if so, the plan was frustrated by weather or technical difficulties. When Peking finally broadcast the momentous news on October 16, the announcement was forced to share headlines with the unexpected purge of Khrushchev, as well as with the British elections, the U. S. political campaign and even the Olympic Games. Finally, the fact that radioactive fallout was not sufficient seriously to endanger human health abroad may have moderated foreign reactions.

The second test explosion, which came on May 14, had been expected for more than two months. What caused the delay-whether the reasons were technical or political-still is not clear. The official announcement from Peking was deliberately vague in saying that China's second atomic bomb was exploded "over its western areas." This led to speculation that the bomb was airdropped, implying a delivery capability, and there was even a Japanese report, later withdrawn, that the bomb had been launched by a missile. The U.S. Atomic Energy Commission called the report "implausible."


The Chinese Communists have strenuously applied their skills as propagandists to exploiting their nuclear achievement to increase China's political, technological and military prestige and influence. Second, their propaganda has sought to placate international resentment, to justify Peking's actions and, if possible, to win additional support for its atomic policies. Increasingly, too, it has sought to cast all blame for nuclear proliferation on the United States. Third, in contradiction to its own protestations of self-defense and the support of peace, Peking has again demonstrated a strong sense of revolutionary mission. It has attempted to use its atomic explosions to raise the morale and militancy of revolutionary forces throughout the world, and to convince them of China's continuing determination and increased ability to support their revolutionary activities. Combined with all of this has been the advocacy of nuclear disarmament, but on terms which would alter the world balance of power in Communist China's favor.

The original proclamations of October 16 and 17, by which Peking heralded its first nuclear test, established the official policy line and created most of the propaganda themes that have since been exploited and used as guidelines for Peking's supporters abroad. Serious and comparatively restrained, they were designed to be persuasive and to portray the image of a progressive, responsible power that had been forced by "nuclear threats and blackmail" to develop its own defensive weapons. The first test was described as a "major contribution" to world peace on the grounds that by breaking the nuclear monopoly of the United States, the Soviet Union and Britain, and by decreasing the effectiveness of "atomic blackmail," the possibility of complete nuclear disarmament would actually increase. China declared that nuclear war could be avoided if "all peace-loving countries and people" coöperated in the struggle, and it promised "never at any time nor under any circumstances to be the first to use nuclear weapons." It is interesting to note that in the reference to nuclear powers France was omitted, either by neglect or indulgence. However, within a week the names of the Soviet Union and Great Britain had been dropped from the list of monopolists and the United States alone was accused of using the test ban to restrict the freedom of other states, including those that have atomic weapons.

Finally, the Chinese People's Republic (C.P.R.) released the following statement, which was sent to the heads of all governments:

The Chinese Government hereby formally proposes to the governments of the world that a summit conference of all the countries of the world be convened to discuss the question of the complete prohibition and thorough destruction of nuclear weapons, and that as a first step, the summit conference should reach an agreement to the effect that the nuclear powers and those countries which may soon become nuclear powers undertake not to use nuclear weapons, neither to use them against non-nuclear countries and nuclear-free zones, nor against each other.

However, Peking warned that until total nuclear disarmanent was achieved it would follow its own path of "firmly and unswervingly" strengthening its national defense and "safeguarding world peace." Further nuclear testing was a "sovereign right" and no outsiders could "interfere."

Peking's disarmament proposal was aimed primarily at the neutrals and was meant to sound "fair and reasonable." It made a special appeal to the many small states which naturally desire some say in the vital question of nuclear disarmament. It also sought to put pressure on the nuclear powers. Yet the Chinese proposal obviously neglected most of the critical issues that have been involved in the world's attempts to achieve disarmament. It omitted a number of important points contained in the 1963 statement in which the C.P.R. refused to sign the test-ban treaty. For example, the proposal of October 1964 failed even to mention general disarmament and made no reference to an earlier suggestion to prohibit importing, exporting, manufacturing or stockpiling atomic arms. There was no longer a call for the destruction of atomic delivery systems and of installations involved in "the research, testing and manufacture" of nuclear weapons. Suggested initial steps such as the removal of foreign bases, the cessation of all nuclear testing and the creation of widespread nuclear-free zones were dropped. Neither proposal had any provisions regarding the crucial issue of control and inspection. Both plans ignored the major question of conventional disarmament, which Peking has referred to as an "illusion." Obviously, total nuclear disarmament, without conventional disarmament, would be highly advantageous to the C.P.R. If the nuclear powers could be pressured into destroying their atomic weapons, leaving China with its vast manpower and massive conventional forces, the balance of power would be fundamentally altered. Moreover, in the same proclamations that argued self- defense, the preservation of peace and atomic disarmament, there were contradictory themes that sounded less "peace-loving." It was stated that the "Chinese Government is loyal to Marxism-Leninism" and that the Chinese people firmly support "struggles for liberation," which can mean not only liberation from the remnants of Western colonialism, but also from the "yoke" of any government that is not friendly to Peking.

Thus far, the successful testing has not been permitted to alter Mao Tse- tung's concept of the superiority of men and politics over weapons. On October 16, Peking repeated Mao's famous slogan that "the atom bomb is a paper tiger." A week later, the Party's official People's Daily maintained that China's security did not depend on nuclear weapons. It was alleged that the "ever-victorious thinking" of Mao and the leadership of the "glorious" Communist Party, plus the unity and political consciousness of the Chinese people, with their "superior socialist system," were "more powerful than the atom bomb." Later it stated, "the Chinese people have very strong nerves."

Another aspect of Peking's propaganda was the allegation that there was world-wide acclaim for China's achievement, especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America, and a bland disregard of the extensive criticisms of its nuclear testing. It also picked up the claims of supporters and the loose comments of non-Communists that the C.P.R. was a "nuclear power." Within a week Peking was casually referring to its "nuclear weapons," as if one test made it a full-fledged atomic power. This trend reached preposterous proportions in late December when Radio Peking declared that China had refrained from taking nuclear arms "to the doorsteps" of the United States when Washington sent Polaris submarines to the Far East.

The C.P.R. has not so far reported the characteristics of the first two atomic devices exploded, doubtless on the theory that they would seem more credible if they were described by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and other qualified foreign sources. These did in fact report that the first device was indeed more sophisticated than had been expected, since the fissionable material employed was enriched uranium (U-235), rather than the more common plutonium. The A.E.C. described the second bomb as also using enriched uranium. This dispelled speculation that the fuel for China's first bomb might have been acquired from an outside source. Greater credence was given to reports that China had developed its own gaseous diffusion plant for separating the U-235 isotope from U-238. Hence, even after the first test, Premier Chou En-lai was able to announce to the National People's Congress with some accuracy that, "Foreign atomic scientists had to admit that our nuclear test surpassed those initially conducted by the United States, Britain or France." There was no mention of the Soviet Union.

After the initial statement, much of Peking's propaganda became more polemic and vitriolic-milder comments being reserved for "neutrals," the most violent for the United States. On October 22 the People's Daily bitterly attacked President Johnson's statement that China's development of nuclear weapons was a "tragedy" which could only increase the "sense of insecurity" of the Chinese people and which utilized scarce resources that might have been used for their well-being. These charges struck a sore point. In replying to them, the party paper accused the United States of "acting the tyrant," using "gangster language," carrying out a "mad nuclear arms drive" and attempting to reduce the Chinese to "slavery." Allegations of U. S. "imperialism," "nuclear blackmail" and "preparations for atomic war" have been endlessly repeated.

In late November the People's Daily made clear that China refused to take part in the 18-nation disarmament discussions. Now that the C.P.R. "has nuclear weapons," it said, the United States seeks "to drag" China into the affairs of the United Nations. But it is the "absolutely unalterable" policy of the C.P.R. to have "nothing to do" with the U.N. until it is represented and Nationalist China is ousted. Peking also refused to accept Secretary-General U Thant's proposal for five-power negotiations, saying that this would be a "nuclear club" in disguise. The Chinese would not attend, even if a "sedan chair" were sent to bring them. Again it was asserted that all nations, large or small, should have equal say in nuclear disarmament. Peking claimed that it had no intention of using nuclear weapons to "manipulate international affairs," but later said that in case of an atomic war Japan would inevitably "bear the brunt" of a "nuclear holocaust."

When China exploded its second atomic device in May, the official communiqué was similar in theme and tone to that of October, though somewhat more moderate. The statement attacked the United States, but there was no reference to paper tigers, and the defensive nature of China's nuclear program was emphasized. On this occasion no specific encouragement was given to fraternal revolutionary movements, but few doubted that Peking would use its second successful test to strengthen Hanoi's will to resist and to bring pressure on Moscow to support North Viet Nam or lose further influence. And in fact one of the first messages of congratulations to be published by Peking was that from Hanoi, saying that China's progress in nuclear technology was "an extremely important factor in curbing United States imperialist schemes of war and aggression."


It is too early to evaluate the full range of reactions to China's second atomic test, but again there was no panic in Asia and the free world's reaction was in general more prompt and effective than it had been in October. Strongly worded protests came from India and Japan-even from Japanese leftists. In general, the reactions to the May explosion could hardly be very dissimilar to those of last autumn, which covered a wide spectrum of human and political response. At that time, Albania, North Korea and North Viet Nam, plus Cambodia, officially applauded the atomic blast. So did individual officials of some other friendly, "non-aligned" states, notably Indonesia. Most of the other congratulatory messages that could be assembled by Peking came from Communist parties, splinter groups, front organizations or individuals who are pro-Peking. The Chinese Communists must have been rather disappointed, for in truth the list was not impressive.

Nevertheless, the statements of friends and allies helped to propagate the Peking line on every continent and provided some appearance of widespread public support. They emphasized the prestige factor and stressed the technical and scientific aspects of China's achievement. It represents, said a typical comment, "a victory for all Asian, African and Latin American peoples . . ." and is an "honor" to the Afro-Asian world. It "dispels the myth that Western countries are the only ones capable of developing atomic weapons." A distinct racist element was noticeable in the comments, but they were not necessarily Communist-inspired.

Reactions to the October test also demonstrated the frictions and cleavages that exist in the Communist movement. Jugoslavia was caustically critical. Originally the Soviet press carried only a brief announcement, and two days later Moscow called on the world to strive for a ban on all nuclear testing. Most of Moscow's Eastern European allies followed its lead. The Hungarian radio described the test explosion as "unfortunate," and East Germany accused Peking of "brusquely disregarding popular opposition." Czechoslovakia called the explosion "the worst possible attack on the test- ban treaty" and "a disservice to peace." The leading Communist newspapers of Western Europe condemned Peking's actions. At first the Cuban press and radio gave only factual reports, but stories of greetings and congratulations from Cuba were distributed by the Chinese Communist news agency.

Considering the vociferous opposition to earlier atmospheric testing, it is surprising that there was not more immediate and forceful condemnation of Peking's action in the non-Communist world. A number of "non-aligned" nations remained silent, despite the fact that they had recently signed the Cairo Declaration urging all states to refrain from acquiring nuclear weapons. Organized protests or rallies were rare. In most countries there was recognition that one atomic test did not constitute a nuclear capability, yet fear existed that in time Peking's actions would destroy the strategic balance of power and increase the possibility of nuclear war. Especially, there was widespread concern that China's testing would encourage or force other nations to develop nuclear weapons, thus destroying what limited progress has been made in restricting atomic armaments.

A major concern was how to deal with Communist China in the future. Some hoped that after observing the effects of their own atomic explosion the Chinese leaders would assume a more responsible attitude. Others were very skeptical. Many officials and editorials in Europe, Africa and Asia urged that the C.P.R. be given greater participation in world councils, especially in disarmament negotiations, but also in the United Nations. This led one senior American official to comment that if the United States tested in the atmosphere there would be cries to expel it from the United Nations, but when Communist China did so there were demands to bring it in.

In Asia, where China's "bomb" has the greatest significance, there was no panic and no rush to seek an accommodation with the C.P.R. Some remarked favorably on President Johnson's reaffirmation of U. S. defense commitments in Asia and his pledge that the United States would give "strong support" to nations threatened by atomic blackmail. In Japan and India, with the exception of radical pro-Peking fringes, the various parties and most newspapers denounced Peking's actions. Both Japan and India have the capacity to develop nuclear weapons, but both governments have reaffirmed their decision not to do so. Especially in India, however, there were signs of increasing pressure on the government to change its policy.

As was to be expected, the governments of Nationalist China, South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and South Viet Nam condemned China, but in some cases there was less official and press reaction than might have been expected. In Pakistan there was no immediate official comment, but some favorable or non-critical press statements appeared. In Ceylon the press tended to use the occasion to criticize the China policy of the United States.

The slight majority of countries that do not recognize Communist China did not, of course, reply officially to its proposal for an all-nation summit conference to discuss nuclear disarmament. Apparently about one-quarter of those that do recognize Peking did not respond either. Most of those that answered opposed the plan or maintained various reservations and suggestions. These results were probably not surprising to Peking, which sought to serve its interests, not to achieve universal approval. Nevertheless, it is probably fair to say that its small Communist allies and Cambodia fully supported the proposal; that Indonesia, the Congo (Brazzaville) and Mali concurred; and that Algeria, Mauritania, Tanzania and the Yemen accepted the proposal in principle. Various reservations were expressed by Burundi, Kuwait and Pakistan. A number of replies were non- committal or politely negative, including France's. Burma showed a considerable independence of views and Ceylon was politely critical. Several replies were as sharp as diplomatic terminology permits. Great Britain's answer was negative and well argued. The Netherlands defended the United States against "unwarranted accusations." The Indian reply was sharply critical and presented the best refutation of Chinese claims.

The Soviet bloc gave some outward appearances of closing ranks and supporting Peking, but their replies contained camouflaged differences. Premier Kosygin expressed "full agreement," noting that the Chinese proposal reflected the Soviet line. Independent Peking could hardly consider this to be a compliment. Also, Radio Moscow's summary contained no direct criticism of the United States and, at least in Peking's version of the full text, the Soviet note sounded almost condescending. On the previous day Radio Moscow had announced that the Soviet Government supported the convening of a world disarmament conference, "as suggested at the Cairo conference of non-aligned countries." Then it added, almost as an afterthought: "Favorable attention is also merited by the proposal of the C.P.R. Government. . . ." Communist China gained little more solace from the replies of the Soviet "satellites." All but Rumania and Hungary specifically mentioned their support for the Soviet disarmament proposals. All but one claimed that they advocated general and complete disarmament. Bulgaria and Mongolia specifically mentioned the Moscow test-ban treaty, which of course is anathema to Communist China.

Since the United States does not recognize the C.P.R., Washington's response to Premier Chou's note was informal. Secretary of State Rusk called it a "smoke screen," adding that it was apparently designed to curry favor with the neutral states and others who were concerned over Peking's atomic testing. President Johnson said that Communist China "fools no one when it offers to trade away its first small accumulation of nuclear power against the mighty arsenals of those who limit Communist Chinese ambitions."

Regarding the May blast, the State Department merely expressed its deep regret that Communist China had for a second time shown "total disregard of the test-ban treaty." The President did not issue any statement. There was no early reaction by the French Government to the second explosion. The French press as a whole expressed disquiet over the event. Le Monde, for example, said that the proliferation of nuclear weapons seemed to hold more dangerous potentialities than ever and that the Chinese success would harden the Chinese position and encourage the Viet Cong to hold firm until the rainy season brought them propitious conditions for a heavy attack on the South Viet Nam régime.


Following China's first test explosion, there was a tendency among specialists to reduce their estimates of the time required for the C.P.R. to create a dangerous atomic capability. Ten years used to be frequently mentioned; now many competent analysts believe that within this decade China may have medium-range ballistic missiles and the nuclear warheads to go with them. Several nuclear scientists have warned that, given the nature of the first explosions, the Chinese are probably capable of developing a hydrogen bomb within a few years.

Until China can produce a credible delivery capability, Peking is unlikely to adopt a high-risk policy that would invite the use of nuclear weapons against it. Although it cannot match the increasingly sophisticated thermonuclear might of the United States or the Soviet Union, it may be satisfied in the short run to obtain a deterrent based on the threat of retaliation against its neighbors. This could permit China to pursue its ambitions more aggressively, holding the peripheral states as hostages. The United States can perhaps find consolation in the fact that under roughly comparable circumstances in the early 1950s, the Soviet Union failed to make major gains in Western Europe. Yet, events to come will surely test both the intestinal fortitude of the free Asian peoples and the continuing credibility of the U.S. nuclear deterrent. More than Europe of a decade ago, Asia suffers from poverty, communal conflicts and political instabilities which will provide the Chinese Communists with opportunities to use direct or indirect nuclear blackmail in the service of revolution and insurrection.

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