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Statement by the President on the First Chinese Nuclear Device

October 16, 1964

THE CHINESE Communists have announced that they conducted their first nuclear test today. By our own detection system we have confirmed that a low yield test actually took place in Western China at about 3 a.m. Eastern daylight time.

As Secretary Rusk noted on September 29, we have known for some time that the Chinese Communists had a nuclear development program which was approaching the point of a first detonation of a test device.

This explosion comes as no surprise to the United States Government. It has been fully taken into account in planning our own defense program and our own nuclear capability. Its military significance should not be overestimated. Many years and great efforts separate the testing of a first nuclear device from having a stockpile of reliable weapons with effective delivery systems.

Still more basic is the fact that if and when the Chinese Communists develop nuclear weapons systems, the free world nuclear strength will continue, of course, to be enormously greater.

The United States reaffirms its defense commitments in Asia. Even if Communist China should eventually develop an effective nuclear capability, that capability would have no effect upon the readiness of the United States to respond to requests from Asian nations for help in dealing with Communist Chinese aggression. The United States will also not be diverted from its efforts to help the nations of Asia to defend themselves and to advance the welfare of their people.

The Chinese Communist nuclear weapons program is a tragedy for the Chinese people who have suffered so much under the Communist regime. Scarce economic resources which could have been used to improve the well-being of the Chinese people have been used to produce a crude nuclear device which can only increase the sense of insecurity of the Chinese people.

Other Asian nations have wisely chosen, instead, to work for the well-being of their people through economic development and through the peaceful use of the atom. In this way, they have made a great contribution to the peace and to the security of the world.

The Chinese Communist nuclear detonation is a reflection of policies which do not serve the cause of peace. But there is no reason to fear that it will lead to immediate dangers of war. The nations of the free world recognize its limited significance and will persevere in their determination to preserve their independence.

We join all humanity in regretting the contamination of the atmosphere caused by the Chinese Communist test. We will continue in our own efforts to keep the atmosphere clean. We will pursue with dedication and determination our purpose of achieving concrete, practical steps on the roads that lead away from nuclear armaments and war, and toward a world of cooperation and development and peace.

I reviewed with the executive head of the National Security Council, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Director of the CIA, and other appropriate officials this morning these developments. I plan to have another meeting with them on Saturday.

Note: This statement was read by the President to members of the press immediately following the reading of Item 674 at 1:20 p.m. in the Fish Room at the White House.

On the preceding day the White House released a report by the Federal Radiation Council outlining the changes in fallout levels since the cessation of nuclear weapons testing by the United States and Russia (see note to Item 653).

In view of the nuclear weapon detonation by Communist China, Secretary Celebrezze, Chairman of the Radiation Council, later reported to the President that the Division of Radiological Health of the Public Health Service had taken action to supplement the normal surveillance program, by making daily evaluations of radioactivity levels in the atmosphere on a nationwide basis, and by making weekly analyses of radionuclides in milk. He added that the Radiation Surveillance Center would maintain a daily assessment of the situation as it developed.

The Secretary's report, in the form of a memorandum dated October 19, was released by the White House on October 26.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Statement by the President on the First Chinese Nuclear Device Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/242251

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