Scrapping nuclear deal spells trouble

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 December, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 December, 2001, 12:00am

Washington's abandonment of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty could cause strategic problems for Beijing.

The move will pave the way for the US administration's plan to develop its proposed missile defence system without any treaty violations. And if the system is a success, China's small nuclear missile arsenal could be rendered useless.

According to Washington's Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, China is estimated to have only about 20 missiles that can reach American shores, while the United States has 5,949 warheads on 1,238 missiles and bombers all capable of hitting Chinese targets.

Beijing is worried not only about missile defence but the enormous ramifications the US withdrawal will have on international nuclear arms control.

Professor Li Bin, director of the arms control programme at Beijing's Tsinghua University, said: 'Our goal is to develop our economy, which needs a peaceful global environment and a stable global military equilibrium. With the US leaving the ABM treaty, it has broken this stability.'

Beijing fears the Bush administration's action will mean nations will no longer agree to any nuclear disarmament control treaties. This could push China into a regional arms race with India and Pakistan.

China would have to divert resources from economic development to building up its military strength, which it is loathe to do.

'We have enough domestic concerns. An arms race is only a rich man's game. A poor man cannot play,' said Professor Niu Jun, American foreign policy expert at Beijing University's Institute of International Studies.

In the past few years, Beijing has expanded its defence budget. It was announced this year that China would increase military spending by 17.7 per cent to US$17.19 billion (HK$133.7 billion), the largest rise in history.