Saturday July 15 2000US envoy steadies relations, but China still upset
SHANGHAI, China - US Defence Secretary William Cohen says American military relations with China are back on track.
It's a slow and hardly-steady track - but it was clear after his visit this week to Beijing and Shanghai that on the subject of US missile defence there remains a deep divide, he said.
"Differences remain," Cohen said in summing up the response by Chinese leaders to his pitch on missile defence.
Cohen's visit was his first since China agreed to resume military ties with Washington, after having cut off the exchanges following the US bombing of China's embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, in May 1999.
Among the modest signs of improving relations: a US Navy ship and its sailors will visit a Chinese port, and Chinese navy ships will make port calls in Honolulu and Seattle.
China also agreed to send officers to the US-sponsored Asia Pacific Security Centre in Hawaii, a forum on defence issues.
Cohen told President Jiang Zemin and other senior leaders that the main reason the administration of US President Bill Clinton is developing a nationwide anti-missile shield is the global spread of ballistic missile technology.
The further it spreads, the greater chance a nation hostile to the United States one day will threaten to strike a US city, Cohen said in explaining why he believes missile defence makes sense.
This is a particularly sensitive subject in China because the United States suspects China of helping spread missile technology, in violation of promises it has made in the past to control it.
US officials believe China has supplied Pakistan, Iran and Libya with either missiles or missile technology.
Cohen told reporters before leaving Shanghai for Sydney, today that one of the factors Clinton will take into account before he decides - within months - whether to move toward deployment of a national missile defence system is the expected response by China and other nations.
Clinton is expected this month to receive a new US intelligence assessment of likely foreign responses to deployment of a national missile defence.
This includes the likelihood that China and Russia would increase their own offensive missile forces and export technologies designed to defeat the anti-missile system.
Clinton also will consider the technical feasibility of missile defence, its projected cost and the urgency of the threat from missile attack on the United States.
China's top arms control negotiator warned recently that a US decision to deploy an anti-missile system would risk collapsing the entire structure of China's arms control and nonproliferation agreements.
Sha Zukang, the Foreign Ministry's top arms control specialist, told the Washington Post in an interview on Thursday that a US anti-missile shield could threaten agreements by China not to export nuclear and chemical weapons and not to test nuclear devices.
He also made it clear that China is opposed to the United States sharing an East Asia-theatre missile defence system with Taiwan, because in China's view that would infringe on what China considers its right to reclaim Taiwan, by force if necessary.
During his visit to Beijing, Cohen addressed the missile defence issue in a speech to the National Defence University, where officers are trained for senior leadership positions. During a question-and-answer session afterward, one officer attacked the US rationale for seeking missile defence.
"It is difficult for us to accept the notion that North Korea poses a missile threat" to the United States, the officer said, citing the most commonly mentioned US reason for rushing to build a missile shield.
The officer noted that tensions between North and South Korea seem to be abating, suggesting even less reason for the United States to fear a missile attack from the communist North.
Cohen insisted North Korea still poses "a military potential threat" to the United States. He said that although North Korea has agreed not to flight test any long-range missiles, it is still developing "aspects" of its missile program. He did not elaborate.
Cohen added that the proposed US national missile defence is 'not solely confined to North Korea, in that sense'.
That points directly to another aspect of the issue that deeply troubles China: that a US anti-missile shield could, in theory, negate China's entire force of long-range nuclear missiles.
The United States insists that a missile defence would not be directed at China or Russia, but the fact remains that it would - if successfully deployed - be capable of defending against all 20 or so of the Chinese missiles capable of reaching US territory. Russia, on the other hand, has thousands of missiles.