China Urges UN To Prevent
Arms Race In Space
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.