China warned on Thursday that President Bush's proposed U.S. missile defense system could spark a new arms race and undermine world peace, the state-run Xinhua News Agency said.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao urged Washington not to scrap a 1972 arms control treaty that places severe limits on anti-missile systems, Xinhua said.
"We believe the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty is the cornerstone for safeguarding global strategic balance and stability," Zhu was quoted as saying.
The brief report on Xinhua was the first official Chinese reaction since Bush outlined his plans for an anti-missile project Tuesday in Washington. It repeated previous Chinese government objections about abandoning the 1972 treaty, which the United States signed with the now defunct Soviet Union.
"If the treaty is destroyed, global strategic balance and stability will be broken, and the international arms control process and nonproliferation efforts will be impeded," the report said, paraphrasing Zhu.
The Bush administration is considering a missile defense system that could be rushed into operation as early as 2004, possibly relying on weapons aboard ships and planes as well as on land.
Bush is considering a multifaceted approach, including an airborne laser weapon that would destroy a missile shortly after it lifted off, as well as sea-based missiles that might share with a land-based system the task of shooting down missiles in mid-flight.
U.S. allies Britain and Canada have stopped short of endorsing the plan, while Sweden, Germany and others have expressed deep concern, fearing the plan could jeopardize global security.
Russia and China have strongly opposed the plan, which they see as aimed at frustrating their nuclear deterrent.
Beijing has also reacted strongly to speculation that the shield could be extended beyond the United States to cover allies Japan and Taiwan. China considers Taiwan a wayward province that should be reunited with the mainland, and opposes any attempt to strengthen the island's defenses.
On Wednesday, Russian Minister Igor Ivanov tempered his country's long-standing opposition to a U.S. national missile defense system by praising Bush's offer to consult with other nations about the proposed missile shield.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.