- GENEVA (Reuters) -- China, hoping to head off a proposed U.S. missile
defense scheme, proposed Thursday that the United Nations negotiate a ban
on weapons in outer space.
- Chinese ambassador Li Changhe said in
a speech to the U.N. Conference on Disarmament (CD) that preventing an
arms race in outer space had become a "pressing" issue.
- Pakistan's envoy Munir Akram and Egypt's
ambassador Mounir Zahran backed China's proposal to launch formal negotiations
on outer space at the CD, which has 61 member states.
- Diplomats said the U.S. delegation, which
did not respond to China's speech, was the only member opposed to setting
up a CD committee to negotiate on outer space. The forum takes decisions
by consensus, meaning Washington can block the proposal.
- The hypothetical U.S. Theater Missile
Defense system, backed by Japan, would be land-based, but probably use
space sensors to provide early warning of enemy or accidental launches.
- China has stepped up denunciation of
the scheme. President Jiang Zemin, who is to visit Switzerland from March
25-27, is expected to push the issue at the CD, diplomatic sources said.
- Last week a senior Beijing official warned
Washington that any attempt to bring Taiwan under the missile defense umbrella
would be seen as direct U.S. military involvement in Taiwan and encourage
pro-independence forces on the island.
- "China has always attached great
importance to prevention of an arms race in outer space," Li told
the Geneva body.
- "Given the fact that some country
in recent years has been intensifying its efforts in developing and testing
weapons and weapon systems in outer space, and in particular in view of
the latest disturbing developments, prevention of an arms race in outer
space has become more pressing and present."
- Li added: "China believes that the
Conference on Disarmament, as the single multilateral disarmament negotiating
forum, should take concrete actions in this regard.
- "It should re-establish an ad hoc
committee to negotiate and conclude international legal instruments on
prevention of an arms race in outer space."
- The CD had a committee on outer space
until 1994. Last year it only reached consensus to name a special coordinator,
but he was unable to drum up support for launching negotiations.
- Pakistan's Akram said "recent developments"
showed the need for urgent action. "We believe prevention is better
than cure." The talks, which end a first 10-week session on March
26, remain divided over its 1999 work program, diplomats say.
- The 30 non-aligned member states proposed
last month that negotiations be launched aimed at total nuclear disarmament.
- But the five official nuclear powers
-- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- have refused
to enter full-blown multilateral negotiations on nuclear disarmament.
- The five argue that the United States
and Russia are already cutting their huge nuclear arsenals, a process they
say should eventually be widened to include the other three powers.
- But Japan Thursday called on the three
smaller official nuclear weapons states -- Britain, China and France --
to freeze their nuclear arsenals as a contribution to nuclear disarmament.
- Japan's ambassador Akira Hayashi also
backed launching negotiations to halt production of nuclear bomb-making
fissile material -- plutonium and highly enriched uranium.