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China Calls For Global Weapons Ban in Space - 2002-04-04

China is calling for a global ban on weapons in space, and criticizes Washington for its approach to arms control here on Earth.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Qiao Zonghuai says stronger agreements are needed to keep conflicts from spilling into space. "We are facing an imminent danger of outer space weaponization. This will not only trigger a possible arms race in outer space, but also cause serious damage to the international disarmament process and the global strategic balance," Mr. Qiao said.

Mr. Qiao and other participants at the U.N. forum cosponsored by China criticized Washington's plans to develop defenses against ballistic missiles because it would diminish Chinese nuclear deterrent and might lead to placing weapons in earth orbit.

But Mark Groombridge, an arms expert from the U.S. State Department, told the forum U.S. space activities help prevent an arms race. "The United States and many other countries have satellites up in space that provide vital imagery of what is taking place on Earth. That provides crucial information in terms of verifying arms control agreements already in place. The United States remains strongly committed to the outer space treaty, which is currently in existence, but we see no reason to change it," Mr. Groombridge said. But China argues the existing space agreements are too weak and cover too little. Chinese officials say the 1967 Outer Space Treaty prohibits only nuclear weapons in space. Beijing says all kinds of new or proposed weapons could cause serious harm.

China and other forum participants also took issue with what they call U.S. unilateralism, a perceived willingness of the United States to ignore the concerns of other nations on military and arms control issues. Several speakers cited the U.S. decision to pull out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and its recent review of nuclear weapons targets and tactics as examples of Washington's unilateral approach.

The top United Nations arms control official, Jayantha Dhanapala, argues this is a critical time to strengthen, rather than abandon arms control treaties. "There is an urgent need in the new millennium and new century to revitalize the quest for multilateral disarmament, as the most certain route to international security," Mr. Dhanapala said.

Mark Groombridge says Washington remains "unequivocally" committed to arms control pacts including the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.