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China Expresses Concern Over US ABM Treaty Withdrawal

China says it is concerned by Washington's plan to pull out of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, in order to deploy a new defense system.

Zhang Qiyue, speaking for China's Foreign Ministry, urged the United States Thursday to be prudent and consult with other nations before abandoning the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty.

Ms. Zhang says it is "regrettable" and "worrisome" if the United States is bent on walking away from its ABM commitments.

She expressed China's view that the treaty has been crucial to international arms control, strategic balance, and peace.

President Bush has decided to pull out of the treaty, which he says is outdated in the post Cold War era and stands in the way of new missile defenses needed to protect against 21st century threats.

The ABM treaty, signed in 1972 with the Soviet Union, was designed to help prevent nuclear war between the world's only two superpowers. It limits the number of defenses Moscow and Washington can deploy against each other's nuclear missiles - leaving both countries vulnerable to destructive attacks and therefore deterring either side from ever launching a first strike.

While Beijing is not a party to the ABM treaty, officials here say the end of the treaty and deployment of U.S. ballistic missile defenses would seriously affect China.

Western experts say China has between 18 and 24 nuclear-armed missiles capable of reaching the United States - which could be rendered useless by planned U.S. missile defenses. Meanwhile, Washington and Moscow each command thousands of nuclear warheads and many delivery systems that could reach China.

Chinese officials have been strongly opposed to a planned U.S. missile defense system and have repeatedly voiced their objections. But Washington's announcement about ABM has been expected and official Chinese reaction here Thursday was rather muted.

China says it remains committed to arms control despite the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM treaty and is calling for international dialogue to maintain a strategic balance and stop a new arms race.