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US Moves to Defuse China's Opposition to Missile Defense - 2001-09-02

The Bush administration is trying to overcome Chinese opposition to the proposed U.S. missile defense program. Administration officials are sending signals to Beijing via the news media.

They turned to The New York Times and The Washington Post - two of the most influential newspapers in the United States.

In separate interviews, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said the Bush administration would begin intensive talks soon with China on missile defense.

She spoke in broad terms of the need to convince Beijing such a shield would promote security in the Asia-Pacific region. She said China should not feel threatened.

Ms. Rice provided few details. But other administration officials, speaking on the condition they would not be identified, offered some insights into the kinds of proposals now under consideration.

All appear to reenforce the same message: that a U.S. defense missile shield is not designed to protect against major powers like China and Russia, but to offer protection against terrorists and small, so-called rogue states.

Both papers quote officials as saying the United States and China might discuss a resumption of nuclear testing at some point in the future.

Officials who talked to The Washington Post also indicated the Bush administration would be willing to give China an advance look at plans for testing a missile defense system. The New York Times reported the White House hopes to ease Chinese opposition to a missile shield by raising no public objections to China's plans to build up its fleet of nuclear missiles.

The White House has been signaling in recent weeks that it intends to intensify its efforts to ease China's concerns about a missile shield. The comments to The New York Times and Washington Post underscore the administration's intentions.

If translated into action, these comments by administration officials could signal a change in U.S. policy. For many years, the United States has tried to discourage China and other countries from building up their nuclear arsenals and from engaging in nuclear tests of any kind.

President Bush will get a chance to discuss the issue with China's leaders next month when he travels to Beijing and Shanghai to attend the annual summit of Pacific-rim leaders. Mr. Bush will also meet on the sidelines of the summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin - another strong critic of U.S. plans for a missile defense shield.