- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2001

BEIJING In his first remarks to reporters since the Bush administration took office two months ago pledging to pursue plans for a national missile-defense (NMD) system, China's top arms-control negotiator refrained yesterday from making threats and instead said he hopes to resolve the issue through dialogue.

"China does not want to see a confrontation between China and the U.S. over the NMD issue nor an arms race between the two countries," said Sha Zukang, director-general of the Foreign Ministry's department of arms control and disarmament, speaking at a press conference.

Four days before a Washington visit by Vice Prime Minister Qian Qichen, who will be the highest-ranking Chinese official to meet President Bush, Mr. Sha did not repeat China's previous threats to increase its nuclear arsenal or reconsider its nonproliferation efforts in response to the U.S. plan.

"We hope the U.S. will give up the idea, just as they've done with … 'Star Wars,' " he said. "We have a series of existing proposals on the table we're ready to discuss with the U.S."

China and Russia have been the most vocal opponents of the U.S. plan, though several of America's European allies are also against it.

Washington says NMD, which would be designed to detect and track incoming missiles then shoot them down, is necessary to protect itself from so-called "rogue states" such as Iraq and North Korea and is not targeted at China. But Beijing believes the U.S. justification for NMD is "very much an exaggeration."

Mr. Sha said the NMD plan was essentially "a unilateral nuclear expansion" by the United States that could trigger an arms race and "will undoubtedly arouse suspicion and mistrust among major powers, hampering their coordination and cooperation in international security affairs."

He declined to say whether China would change its nuclear-disarmament efforts or increase its military cooperation with Russia if Washington pursues NMD. Mr. Sha would say only that it is still too early to tell, especially since U.S. officials have not spelled out what the missile-defense system would look like.

Asked whether China would withdraw from the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty if Washington pursues NMD, Mr. Sha said he was opposed to linking the two issues, but added, "the pursuit of national missile defense is not good for the effective implementation of CTBT."

China and the United States have both signed the CTBT, but neither has ratified it.

While at times charming, Mr. Sha turned angry when the issue of possible U.S. arms sales to Taiwan came up. The island has requested the advanced Aegis radar system, which would improve its ability to defend itself against a Chinese missile attack, and Mr. Bush is scheduled to decide next month what items to sell.

"We hate this idea," Mr. Sha said, almost shouting. "Taiwan is a part of China. It's none of your [America's] business."

He said sale of the Aegis system would be tantamount to a military alliance between Washington and Taiwan, which is prohibited under joint communiques signed by China and the United States.

"Any sale is bad enough," he said. "Aegis is the worst."

He said the advanced communications system would allow Taiwan to join up with the U.S. communications system "which is like a military alliance."

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