Tuesday, June 5, 2007

BEIJING — China’s Foreign Ministry yesterday reiterated the country’s apprehension over U.S. and Japanese efforts to develop a missile defense system in Asia, warning both nations to act with caution.

China has “grave concerns” about U.S. and Japanese plans, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters yesterday, noting that a missile defense system will “impact stability and the strategic balance.”

“It is not conducive to mutual trust of major nations and regional security,” Ms. Jiang said. She warned, “It may also cause new proliferation problems.”

She made the comments in response to remarks by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and his Japanese counterpart, Fumio Kyuma, over the weekend at the sixth Asia Security Summit, hosted by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore.

“I’m not sure why [the Chinese] are so worried,” Mr. Gates told reporters. “Just as with the Russians, we would be pleased to sit down with them and talk about the capabilities and technical characteristics of this system and its limitation.”

Mr. Gates and Mr. Kyuma emphasized that a defense was necessary to stop rogue nations and terrorist organizations from using rockets to deliver weapons of mass destruction.

China’s concerns mirror growing tensions between Russia and the United States over U.S. plans to deploy a missile defense system in Eastern Europe.

Apart from the European plan, the U.S. and Japan have been intensifying efforts to build a joint missile defense system in the wake North Korea’s nuclear test in October.

North Korea has missiles capable of hitting much of Japan and is suspected of developing multistage rockets able to hit the U.S., but its capability to arm such weapons with nuclear warheads remains uncertain.

Lt. Gen. Zhang Qinsheng, deputy chief of the People’s Liberation Army, told reporters at the Singapore conference that the development of an anti-missile system by the United States, Australia and Japan could destabilize Asia.

China would oppose “very strongly” any attempt to extend such a system to cover Taiwan, Gen. Zhang said.

The Taiwan Relations Act enacted by Congress in 1979 requires the U.S. to help defend the island, which China considers a breakaway province, if it is attacked. Defense analysts estimate the mainland has at least 600 missiles aimed at Taiwan.

The United States shares a broad range of security interests with China, including terrorism, nonproliferation and energy issues, as well as broad, remarkably interconnected economic and trading ties, Mr. Gates said.

Despite differences on some issues, “there is reason to be optimistic about the U.S.-China relationship,” Mr. Gates said, but he promised “we will fulfill our commitments in Asia.”

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