SENIOR U.S. official: China does not understand missile plan

Monday, May 14th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SINGAPORE (AP) _ China does not understand Washington's intentions for a new missile defense system, a senior State Department official said Monday before departing for Beijing to discuss the plan.

``Part of the dialogue we will be having with China will be to allay the concerns they've expressed about something much grander than we have in mind,'' said James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

News reports from China ``suggest that they really don't understand'' the missile system plan, Kelly said after meeting with officials in the city-state of Singapore.

Kelly said he was to meet with Li Zhaoxing, China's vice foreign minister, and other Foreign Ministry officials Tuesday as part of lobbying to win Asian support for the missile defense plan. His tour also covers Japan, South Korea and Australia.

Other U.S. officials have made similar lobbying visits in Europe, where American allies have questioned the plan and Russia is firmly opposed to it. The U.S. plan would violate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty between the United States and Russia, and some say it could spark a new arms race.

Beijing, which fears losing the deterrent power of its small nuclear arsenal, also has opposed the plan.

China also worries that Washington might extend protection from such a system to rival Taiwan, reducing Beijing's ability to use its growing missile forces to intimidate the island, which it regards as a renegade province. Chinese officials say they would react strongly to any move to include Taiwan in a regional missile defense.

However, Kelly echoed President Bush's contention that the ABM treaty is outdated, and said it limits the United States' ability to help its allies.

``We cannot, for example, transfer technology involving missile defense to any ally or friend'' under the treaty, he said. The new U.S. missile defense program was not directed at any perceived threat from China, he added.

The missile dispute is part of a range of issues bedeviling relations between Beijing and the Bush administration, which has been more critical of China and supportive of Taiwan.

U.S.-China relations have been strained since the collision last month of an American spy plane and a Chinese fighter. The crash killed the Chinese pilot and led to the 11-day detention of the 24 Americans aboard the plane.

``It's unfortunate that the accident occurred ... and it's unfortunate that the plane is still in China,'' Kelly said.

The plane was not intended as the main topic of talks, but the incident would likely mean his China visit would not be ``business as usual,'' he noted.

Beijing also has rejected U.S. criticism of its human rights record, and Chinese officials were angry and embarrassed after the State Department issued a warning about traveling to China following a string of detentions on the mainland of Chinese-born scholars and businesspeople with foreign connections.