The threat of retaliation in order to prevent an enemy attack, called deterrence, is a fundamental principle for the U.S. but not Beijing.
"Both Chinese and U.S. nuclear experts have long been perplexed by the differences in each other's approaches to nuclear deterrence. U.S. scholars believe that nuclear deterrence is appropriate, while Chinese scholars tend to believe that it has a strong intimidation effect. This difference is a problem," according to the report.
But the reason Beijing opposes deterrence is because it's confusing the idea with "nuclear compellance," the report flagged.
Whereas deterrence forces a rival to abandon an attack and thereby maintains the status quo, compellance is the idea that using a threat can force a rival to take action it does not wish to, which changes the status quo.
Washington distinguishes between the two ideas but apparently China does not.
"Chinese scholars take the position that various issues in a conflict are interrelated, and they pay close attention to conflict escalation," the report said. "Therefore, in their view, nuclear deterrence and compellence are indistinguishable."