FEB 21, 2001

The Straits Times, Singapore
US missile plan 'could spark Asia arms race'

Experts warn that the proposed nuclear shield could provoke China into expanding its own arsenal, with far-reaching consequences

By R. Senthilnathan

REGARDLESS of what the present Washington administration may say, China is certain that the proposed US nuclear missile shield plan is proof that Beijing is being turned into Enemy No 1 by the world's superpower.

According to international participants at a weekend seminar in Canada, this will have far-reaching consequences for the Asian region.

Mr Sha Zukang, director-general of the arms control and disarmament unit at the Chinese Foreign Ministry, did not mince words about the US National Missile Defence (NMD) plan.

Speaking to defence experts from Canada, China, Denmark, India, Russia and the US who gathered in Vancouver to discuss the NMD, Mr Sha declared: 'I hate National Missile Defence.'

Mr Sha, Beijing's chief nuclear disarmament negotiator, believes the missile defence plan is being pursued not to protect the US and its allies from attacks by the so-called rogue nations such as Libya or North Korea, but because Washington hardliners want to make China its new enemy.

'It comes from some kind of Cold War psyche in America. People are searching for some kind of enemy, and maybe it can be China,' the Globe and Mail newspaper quoted Mr Sha as saying.

The meeting was organised by the Liu Centre for the Study of Global Issues, a left-leaning think-tank directed by the former Canadian foreign minister and missile defence shield critic Lloyd Axworthy.

Possessing a mere 24 nuclear warheads, Mr Sha claimed his country was no threat to the US, which has thousands in its arsenal.

The Liu centre said China had more to fear from the NMD than any other country.

Even though Russia has voiced fears that the NMD would tempt the US to launch a preemptive attack on Moscow, Washington would not be able to destroy Russia's counter-strike capability, the centre said in a position paper.

Beijing, on the other hand, has a tiny arsenal that could be quickly neutralised, it said.

However, if the Bush administration moved ahead with the NMD plan, China would not hesitate to launch a programme to increase and improve its own nuclear arsenal, the centre said.

Mr Gloria Duffy, a former defence official with the Clinton administration, said that if China began to increase its nuclear weapons, its southern neighbour India could get jittery and start seeking ways to expand its own, even tinier nuclear arsenal.

And anything India did would be matched by Pakistan, she said.

Even though Beijing would not have to spend about US$60-100 billion (S$105-175 billion), the sum Washington would have to spend on the NMD, the financial resources needed to upgrade China's nuclear arsenal would have far-reaching economic, political and social consequences, the Liu centre warned.

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