TOKYO, Oct. 17, 1964 (UPI) -- Chairman Mao Tse-Tung maintains that Communist China has nothing to fear from nuclear weapons. But his people have paid a fearful price to develop the atomic bomb of their own. Mao is said to have told a Yugoslav visitor to Peking in 1957, "We have a very large territory and a big population. Atomic bombs could not kill all of us."
"What if they killed 300 million of us? We would still have many people left."
Mao has never said such a thing publicly. His government frequently issues statements like this one which followed yesterday's atomic blast:
"The atom bomb is a paper tiger. This famous saying by Chairman Mao Tse-Tung is known to all. This was our view in the past and this is still our view at present."
Students of Chinese Communist affairs say there is more to this that simpleminded superstitions or cynical calculations. What Mao means, they say, is that nuclear weapons are certainly dangerous but that no country will ever use them for fear of retaliation.
This explains previous Peking statements that "the United States is a paper tiger" because its "nuclear threat" is a hollow one, and therefore "the people can overcome modern weaponry if their cause is just."
As to the cost to China of building its own bomb, President Johnson said yesterday that the explosion was a "tragedy" to the Chinese people.
Johnson said, "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."
There is no question that the bomb required diversion of scarce technologists, equipment and national resources at a time when China is struggling to get on its feet.
Mao probably never doubted that it was worth the effort.