“We will use nuclear bombs first. We will use nuclear bombs continuously. We will do this until Japan declares unconditional surrender for the second time,” a threatening video circulated among official Chinese Communist Party channels warns.
“When we liberate Taiwan, if Japan dares to intervene by force – even if it only deploys one soldier, one plane or one ship – we will not only return fire but also wage full-scale war against Japan itself.”
Tensions between Tokyo and Beijing have spiked high in recent weeks.
Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso said: “We must defend Taiwan, under our alliance with the US”.
Defence Minister Yasuhide Nakayama added Japan and the US must “protect Taiwan as a democratic country”.
This was not what Beijing wanted to hear.
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“We will never allow anyone to intervene in the Taiwan question in any way,” retorted Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian at a press briefing last week.
But a Chinese Communist Party approved video channel with close ties to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) took the anger to the next level.
At the weekend, it called on Beijing to abandon its “no first-use” nuclear weapons policy.
“In 1964, when our first atomic bomb was successfully detonated, we promised the world that we would not use atomic weapons against non-nuclear countries, and we would not be the first to use them,” the narrator recites.
“Nearly 60 years have passed. Now the international situation has changed dramatically. Our country is in the midst of a major change. And all political policies, tactics and strategies must be adjusted to protect the peaceful rise of our country.
“It is necessary to make limited adjustments to our nuclear policy.”
Fire and fury
“Some of that’s pretty crazy stuff!” says Professor Stephan Fruhling of the Australian National University’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre. “I think we can glean from this that the notion that Japan would assist Taiwan has really hit a nerve.”
The first five-minute clip was published on Sunday. A second, longer version went online a day later. Both were deleted Wednesday after being reposted by Communist Party officials, attracting millions of views, tens of thousands of patriotic comments – and international attention.
It’s also just the latest officially sanctioned video threatening to attack the West.
Last year, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) released a recruitment video following an H-6K strategic bomber as it simulated a strike on the US territory of Guam.
According to Chinese-born human rights activist Jennifer Zeng, the publishing channel Wisdom & Strategies for 6 Armies “either belongs (to the) PLA or has strong connections”, citing business news reports of its ownership and financial links.
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Exactly how official the sentiment expressed in the video clips is uncertain.
What is certain is Beijing’s unhappiness with Tokyo.
“Japan is the only country in the world that has been hit by atomic bombs. It has a deep memory of this from the government down to the people,” a transcript of one of the videos reads.
“Nuclear deterrence against Japan will get twice the result with half the effort.
“By singling out Japan as an ‘exception’ to our commitment not to use or be the first to use nuclear weapons, we are warning Japan and informing the world that if Japan interferes militarily in our domestic affairs – including the unification of Taiwan with the mainland – nuclear weapons will surely be used against them.
“They will be used continuously until its unconditional surrender. There will be no peace talks.”
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On The Front Line
“If Taiwan falls, Okinawa will be next. We must think about this seriously and steadfastly prepare our defence might,” Deputy Prime Minister Aso said on Monday, July 5.
“If a major problem occurs over Taiwan, it can be said to be related to Japan’s survival … We must defend Taiwan under our alliance with the US.”
Beijing’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao called Aso “extremely wrong and dangerous”. He said the deputy prime minister’s words “undermine the political foundation of China-Japan relations”.
He went on to quote Chairman Xi Jinping’s Communist Party 100th anniversary speech: “No one should underestimate the great resolve, strong will and extraordinary capability of the Chinese people to defend their national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Beijing was already in a bad mood.
Just a week earlier, state Minister of Defence Yasuhide Nakayama said Japan and the US needed to “wake up” to the regional security threat. “We have to wake up. We have to prepare. We have to protect Taiwan as a democratic country.”
He said any takeover of Taiwan would directly threaten nearby disputed islands, including Japan’s Okinawa Prefecture.
“Democratic countries have to protect democratic countries and allies,” he added.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin called the remarks “erroneous.” He said Beijing had “lodged solemn representations” with Tokyo over Nakayama’s use of the word “country” concerning Taiwan.
Then, on Tuesday, Japan released its annual defence review.
It names China as Japan’s primary national security concern.
“It is necessary that we pay close attention to the situation with a sense of crisis more than ever,” the paper said in a new chapter dedicated to Taiwan.
China will ‘destroy’ Japan
Professor Fruhling says he doesn’t expect the nuclear threat to be echoed by Beijing’s higher echelons.
“My sense though is that they will squash this kind of rhetoric insofar as it is only likely to strengthen the case for the US to rely more heavily on nuclear weapons in the Indo-Pacific as well,” he told news.com.au.
But the editor-in-chief of the Chinese Communist Party’s tabloid Global Times news service exposed Beijing’s hostile mood in a post last week.
Hu Xijin wrote that “when Taiwan Strait hostilities do break out, Japan had better stay far away”.
He went on to add: “If the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) join the fight and attack the People’s Liberation Army, the PLA will not only destroy the JSDF, it also has the right to strike the JSDF’s bases and related military installations, crippling its attacking capabilities.”
But the Wisdom & Strategies channel takes this sentiment much further.
“If Japan attacks China in order to split up Taiwan from our country, it will surely stir up righteous national indignation and give the Chinese people an opportunity to take revenge,” one of its two videos declares.
“We must set the four islands of mainland Japan as our strategic target because our goal is the annihilation of Japan. This will be an ‘unlimited war’. We’ll use all means of war, including tactical and strategic nuclear weapons.”
It talks of a coalition invasion, including North Korea and Russia.
“After defeating Japan, we must take more severe measures than after World War II. First, we must partition Japan to completely eliminate the root cause of war. The Japanese islands will be divided into four independent states under the administration of China and Russia, with China and Russia stationing troops there.”
“The possibility that (Beijing) would use nuclear weapons against Japan or the US if they thought it would make the difference between victory and defeat in a war over Taiwan is, in my view, very real,” says Professor Fruhling.
And he believes the fiery rhetoric is the result of several recent strategic shifts in the Western Pacific.
Japan and the United States have reaffirmed their mutual defence pact. And both have expressed intentions to defend Taiwan. “Indeed, the suggestion that the PLAN (People’s Liberation Army Navy) would be able to successfully invade Taiwan if they face not just the US Navy but also the JSDF is a lot more challenging,” he says.
And Beijing’s attitude towards the use of nuclear weapons also is changing.
“Developing a nuclear-capable bomber makes little sense if they only want to use their arsenal to retaliate against adversary cities,” he notes. “And the size of their forces is increasing even as the size of Russian and US nuclear forces has reduced significantly over the last 20 years.”
This stands against a Chinese backdrop where Chairman Xi recently again pledged to complete “reunification” with Taiwan – whether it wanted it or not. He also labelled the US as a “risk creator” for sending warships and aircraft through the Taiwan Strait.
And the intense nationalism of China’s ongoing 100th anniversary of the CCP celebrations is hyping past confrontations with Japan.
“In modern history, Japan has taken the initiative to harm the Chinese people many times – including the First Sino-Japanese War in 1894-95, when it took over Taiwan and made us pay more than 230 taels of silver in reparations,” one of the Wisdom & Strategies videos asserts. “And then there’s the invasion of China in 1931-45, where more than 35 million Chinese were killed and wounded.
“Japan has not taken a serious stand in acknowledging the atrocities it committed against China. If Japan goes to war with China for the third time, the Chinese people will take revenge.”
Jamie Seidel is a freelance writer | @JamieSeidel