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While declaring its resolve to retake rival Taiwan by force if necessary, China Thursday removed one threat by promising not to use nuclear weapons in the event of a conflict.

The pledge, issued by the Foreign Ministry, was the most explicit renunciation of the nuclear option China has given Taiwan and suggested a slight easing of tensions.

Divided after the Nationalists lost the mainland to Mao Tse-tung's Communists in 1949, China and Taiwan maintained they were both part of a single Chinese nation. While Taiwan has backed away from its claim to China over the past decade, Beijing still regards the island as a rebel province.

Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui provoked the latest round of Chinese anger, saying in a radio interview in July that the two sides should deal with each other as separate states.

In July, as the war of nerves heated up, China announced it had developed a neutron bomb and did nothing to dampen media speculation that the announcement served as a warning to Taiwan.

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