US Quickens China-Russia Thaw ; Chinese News Agency Warned Yesterday That US Missile Shield Plans Could Start an Arms Race

By Robert Marquand writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, May 3, 2001 | Go to article overview

US Quickens China-Russia Thaw ; Chinese News Agency Warned Yesterday That US Missile Shield Plans Could Start an Arms Race


Robert Marquand writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


When President Richard Nixon helped "open China," part of the aim was to counter any alliance between the archrival Soviets, and China. Jokes and friendship toasts between then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Chinese officials in the 1970s always included verbal jabs at Moscow.

In reality, mutual suspicions and animosity between Moscow and Beijing then were so thick that a "Sino-Soviet" alliance never materialized. Yet today, a struggling Russia and a rising China are now exploring a wide range of cooperative ties, including closer military relations. The White House announcement Tuesday to design and deploy a nuclear missile shield could accelerate this emerging comity.

In fact, by proposing to cut nuclear weapons stockpiles and abandon the traditional concept of nuclear deterrence, the Bush administration may be introducing the most significant geopolitical change since World War II.

The US plan comes at a time when relations between the "Bear" and the "Dragon" are in their "most intensive phase in decades," according to a Russian Foreign Ministry

statement. Already, more than half of Russia's growing arms exports are to China, a nuclear weapons state that sees its deterrent as devalued by the prospect of an effective missile defense in the US.

Yesterday, China's Xinhua state news agency warned: "The US missile defense plan ... will destroy the balance of international security forces and could cause a new arms race."

Early this week, Russia and China announced a longterm "friendship and cooperation treaty" to be signed when Chinese President Jiang Zemin visits his counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Moscow this July.

With the US threatening to withdraw unilaterally from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty, the keystone of cold-war arms control, the message received in Moscow is that Russia is no longer considered a strategic equal, but rather a second-tier nuclear power such as Britain, France, or China.

"Our leaders have great difficulty accepting this, but the impact upon them is purely psychological," says Andrei Piontkovsky, director of the Center for Strategic Studies, an independent Moscow think tank. "We still have over 1,000 nuclear missiles, which would be more than enough to overwhelm the missile shield the Americans are contemplating. Russian leaders should relax and concentrate on the positive elements of Bush's message, such as the suggestion to slash strategic offensive weapons."

Should China and Russia overcome their differences, geopolitics would be significantly altered in the Pacific-Asia region, an area described by Ashley Tellis of the Rand Corporation as "poised to become the new center of gravity in international politics in the 21st century."

A serious Sino-Russian power block could in time challenge the US strategic and military role in the region, backed by the US Pacific Fleet, which for many years has provided security in East Asia. For that reason, the US missile plan is already raising the level of concern among states like Japan and South Korea, experts say.

"There is some reluctance and some concerns, particularly [regarding] China," says Masahi Nishihara, the president of the National Defense Academy in Yokosuka, Japan. "But China will expand its nuclear positions anyway; they're simply using American support for Theater Missile Defense [TMD] as their excuse for expanding it."

The US considers a smaller-scale shield for Japan as necessary to defend it, and US forces based there, against a North Korean missile threat. China considers a TMD shield as the first step in the remilitarization of Japan. It also worries that Taiwan might get such a shield, according to Thomas Bickford, an Asia security specialist at the University of Wisconsin.

Already, China purchases an estimated $2 billion worth of Russian military hardware annually, intelligence reports say - and China may be negotiating secretly to purchase Russian "stealth" destroyers that would give its small navy the capability of sinking US aircraft carriers. …

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