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Historical documents

48 Report of the Joint Intelligence Committee

Canberra, June 1960


JIC (AUST) (60) 28: Nuclear Weapons and Guided Missiles in Communist China up to the End of 1965

[matter omitted]


The Chinese Requirement

[matter omitted]

  1. We believe that China intends to acquire a full range of nuclear weapons and guided missiles as soon as practicable.

    Chinese Production Capacity

  2. Nuclear Weapons
    1. China has indigenous sources of uranium and is capable of producing uranium metal for use as fuel in a nuclear reactor. There is, however, no evidence to date of any activity which could be directly related to nuclear weapon trial or development and there are no known facilities for substantial production of the necessary fissile material.
    2. China has the scientific and technical ability, unaided, to produce a very limited number of nuclear weapons and, assuming that a major effort is made, a nuclear weapon programme could be in operation by 1965.

[matter omitted]

Although this generally is true, it is unlikely that, in the particular scientific disciplines affecting nuclear and guided missile research, there will be a sufficiency of adequately trained scientists for these subjects, which currently receive high priority. In short, withdrawal or denial of Soviet scientific and technical personnel will not prevent Chinese nuclear-weapon and guided missile-development programmes, although it may delay or limit them.

Nuclear Weapons

  1. Nuclear Research. China has an active and expanding nuclear research programme which has high priority, is well staffed and adequately equipped. The 12-Year Plan for the development of certain 'vital departments' of science to the 'world's most advanced levels', announced in January 1956, gave high priority to the development of 'peaceful uses of atomic energy'.1 These priorities were reaffirmed during a review of the Plan in 1959.

    [matter omitted]

  2. Production of Fissionable Material. Firm evidence of Chinese uranium mining activity from as early as 1954 at various localities in China particularly in Sinkiang.2

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  3. Sino-Soviet Co-operation. The USSR has provided substantial aid to the Chinese nuclear programme in terms of technical advice, equipment and training. Soviet advice and assistance have been identified at all stages of the Chinese uranium mining and extraction programme; the Peking research reactor and cyclotron-the heart of the Chinese nuclear research programme-were provided by the USSR, and there is evidence of considerable Soviet assistance in the planning of the Chinese programme. An important example of this co-operation was the establishment of the Joint Nuclear Research Institute at Dubna (near Moscow) in 1956.3

[matter omitted]

In Limited War in Asia

  1. In the event of limited war in Asia during the next five years the USSR would continue to supply conventional arms including some non-nuclear tactical missiles. However, the USSR would be most unlikely to provide nuclear weapons to China in limited war unless targets in China had been subjected to Western nuclear attack. In making such a decision the USSR would have to consider the risk of global war.

[NAA: A1209, 1961/845]

  • 1 For a detailed account of China's 'Twelve Year Plan', actually promulgated in March 1956, see Lewis and Litai, China Builds the Bomb, pp. 49-51.
  • 2 Xinjiang, China's furthermost western province. Although uranium was known to be located in other provinces, Xinjiang was at that time commonly regarded as China's primary mining site. However, subsequent research indicates that the first Chinese uranium mines were established in the southeastern provinces of Hunan and Guangdong. The Chenxian Uranium Mine, so named because of its location in Chenxian County (Hunan), was the most sophisticated of these early mines. See ibid., pp. 75-6, 78, 81-6, 89.
  • 3 The Chinese atomic program, as the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) noted, received significant assistance from the USSR. In October 1954, the two countries signed a Scientific and Technical Cooperation Accord. This was followed, in April 1955, by the Sino-Soviet Atomic Cooperation Accord, by which Moscow agreed to supply an experimental nuclear reactor, a particle accelerator and 'the necessary quantity of fissionable material' (which was used to build the Peking Nuclear Weapons Research Institute, referred to above). The dearth of trained nuclear physicists led to the creation, in March 1956, of the Joint Institute of Nuclear Research in Dubna, near Moscow. Soviet physicists and technicians were enlisted to lecture and train hundreds of Chinese college seniors majoring in science and technology. The Jiuquan Atomic Energy Complex, begun and 1958 and eventually the pride of China's nuclear program, was initially based on designs provided by the USSR. As the JIC anticipated, however, the Soviet Union was willing to go only so far with its assistance and this reluctance played a crucial role in the Sino- Soviet split of the late-1950s. Under the New Defence Technical Accord, signed in October 1957, the USSR had agreed to provide China with a prototype nuclear weapon. The USSR continually postponed delivery, however, and Khrushchev later claimed that he had become convinced that 'our relations with China had deteriorated hopelessly'; in mid-1959, Khrushchev, on the advice his relevant minister, decided against sending the prototype. The extent of the ensuing rupture in Sino-Soviet relations was not yet appreciated by the JIC. See ibid., pp. 60-5, 105, 109-12.
Last Updated: 20 June 2013
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