China Repeats Opposition To Missile Defense; Russian Reaction Low-Key

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:10 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - China Tuesday reiterated its opposition to President Bush's ballistic missile defense proposals, following a successful test of the system, whose aim is to protect the U.S. and its allies against missiles fired by "rogue states."

"Our position on missile defense is very clear and consistent," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhang Qiyue told a news conference. "We are opposed to the United States building a missile defense system.

"Instead we believe that relevant sides should, through sincere and serious dialogues, seek a solution that does not compromise any side's security interests, nor harm international efforts at arms-control and disarmament," she added.

In the latest test of technology to be used in the planned missile-killing system, the U.S. Monday intercepted a dummy warhead more than 100 miles above the South Pacific Ocean. The two projectiles were fired from locations around 4,800 miles apart.

The test was the fifth carried out, and the third to be declared successful.

The U.S. believes hostile states such as Iran and North Korea could pose a ballistic missile threat. In twice-yearly unclassified reports to Congress, the CIA describes attempts by these countries and others to obtain weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them.

The missile shield is not intended to protect the U.S. from Chinese or Russian attack, but it is the Chinese and Russians who have spearheaded opposition to the missile defense plan, saying it undermines existing arms control treaties - in particular the 1972 Anti Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty signed between the U.S. and Soviet Union.

Zhang said China and Russia shared the opinion that the missile defense proposal "will exert negative impact on international arms control and disarmament processes as well as on the global strategic balance."

By contrast to China's reaction to the test, however, Moscow responded in a matter-of-fact fashion. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Tuesday that Russia had been informed of the test beforehand, and would wait and see what happened in the future.

After the last U.S. test of the missile defense technology last July, Russia reacted much more forcefully.

Moscow-Washington relations have improved considerably in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, with President Vladimir Putin voicing full support for Bush's campaign against international terrorism, now playing out in Afghanistan.

Analysts differ over whether the missile defense issue has moved up or down the agendas of the two countries since Sept. 11.

Andrei Piontkovsky, director of Russia's Center for Strategic Research, predicts in the current edition of the business publication Russia Journal that missile defense will in time become a non-issue.

The U.S. over the next several years will carry out more tests, formally violating the ABM Treaty, while Russia will either ignore the violations or agree to amend the treaty to allow such tests, he says.

"The Americans will then lose enthusiasm for their treasured project, and Russia and the United States will simply let the issue drop," Piontkovsky suggests. "The two countries will have far more interesting and constructive agendas to tackle."

On the other hand, U.S. officials say the danger of terrorist-sponsoring states or groups developing and using ballistic missiles, possibly carrying non-conventional warheads, remains very real.

A Council on Foreign Relations/Pew Research Center opinion survey last month found that support among Americans - especially women - for a missile defense system had increased significantly since the September attacks.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow