The United States is sending a team of senior officials to China next week to further explain President Bush's decision Thursday to scrap the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Moscow. Beijing is concerned that the Bush administration's planned anti-missile system could nullify its strategic missile force.
State Department officials say they're satisfied the administration has been able to ease Russian concerns about its missile defense plans. But with China continuing to express misgivings about the program, the State Department says a U.S. team will go to Beijing next week to continue the dialogue on the issue.
Only hours before he announced U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty on Thursday, President Bush called Chinese President Jiang Zemin with an offer to hold what were termed "high-level strategic talks" on the issue.
Beijing worries that administration plans to develop a missile defense system will undercut the deterrent value of its small nuclear arsenal, believed to include about 20 nuclear missiles capable of reaching the United States.
China has threatened to expand its strategic weapons program in response to a U.S. anti-missile deployment. But in announcing the dispatch of the U.S. experts to China, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said a Chinese military buildup has already been underway, independent of U.S. anti-missile efforts. "They are engaged in a substantial effort to modernize their strategic nuclear forces," the spokesman said. "We don't think that our limited missile defense would in any way negate that force, or threaten that force. And, therefore, we don't see any reason for them to expand that buildup."
The U.S. administration insists its envisaged missile defense system is aimed entirely at threats posed by so-called "rogue states" or terrorist groups that might acquire nuclear missiles.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday he believes China will eventually come to the same conclusion that Russia has, that the missile defense program is not directed against them.
Official Chinese reaction to the Bush decision was mild, with a spokeswoman in Beijing reiterating China's view that the ABM treaty has been crucial to international arms control and strategic balance, and saying it is "regrettable" if the United States was walking away from its commitments.
Spokesman Boucher said next week's talks in Beijing would not be negotiations, but a continuation of a process of consultation on strategic issues.