In an attempt to reverse Beijing's resistance toward a U.S. missile defense proposal, the Bush adminstration will give China a sneak preview of plans for testing the system, the White House said Sunday.
China will get an update on U.S. missile plans before President Bush visits Beijing next month, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. The United States will also try to convince other countries that the proposed shield is not a threat.
"This is part of the administration's outreach to China and other nations such as Russia to discuss with them the reason why we are developing a missile defense system and how it is designed to protect us from rogue nations or accidental launches," Fleischer said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
"It is something we are hoping they will support because it is not aimed at China," he said. "The president thinks it is important to consult with our allies and other nations."
Fleischer denied that the Bush administration was courting China's support of the missile defense system in exchange for U.S. acceptance of a nuclear or military buildup by Beijing, as reported in Sunday's New York Times.
The Times reported that the White House would tell Chinese leaders it won't oppose their idea to expand the country's small cache of nuclear weapons.
But Fleischer said the White House is pursuing missile defense "separate and apart" from the issue of China's desire to expand its limited arsenal of nuclear missiles.
"The United States has made it clear and continues to make it clear that a military buildup there is not necessary," he said.
He also said there was no change in U.S. policy on the testing of nuclear weapons, now precluded by a worldwide moratorium. "We have no plans to resume testing," Fleischer said.
The Times and The Washington Post reported in their Sunday editions that both sides might decide to begin nuclear weapons testing again at some point in the future — even though a worldwide moratorium against such activity has been in effect.
Initial Capitol Hill reaction to those reports was critical.
"I would not like to see the Chinese expand their nuclear capabilities," said Sen. Arlen Specter said Sunday on CBS' Face the Nation. "I think it is much too soon to even think about matters that offset our missile defense."
China is "the coming colossus of the world and a superpower," said Specter, R-Pa., who added he had just returned from a China trip where he talked with government leaders. "I would not want to see them become any more powerful in the nuclear line. I think we ought to formulate our policy in many different ways to try to avoid just that."
Fleischer said the system is intended to protect the United States and its allies from hostile nations with missile capabilities such as Iran, Iraq and Libya.
"Other nations have nothing to worry about from American development of a missile defense system," he said. "It will protect the peace in the world ... when the real threat to peace are these rogue nations."
China fears the missile shield would undercut the deterrent effect of China's small nuclear arsenal.
"China's position on missile defense is clear-cut and consistent," China's Foreign Ministry said in late August after Bush said the United States would withdraw a 1972 arms control treaty signed by Washington and Moscow. "We hope the U.S. government will seriously consider the position of the international community and proceed with caution."
Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security adviser, told the Post the administration will begin talks soon to try to convince China that it won't be threatened by the proposed U.S. defense shield.
"We want to engage China on issues regarding missile defense, and we really haven't," Rice told the Post. "We want to have serious talks with them about why this is not a threat to them. We want to have serious talks with them about why we think stability in the Asia-Pacific region would be well served by this capability."
Rice said the White House will also ask that China not aim more of its own nuclear missiles at the U.S.
Rice told the Times that the U.S. "is not about to propose to the Chinese that in exchange for Chinese acceptance of missile defense, we will accept a nuclear buildup."
While Washington does not believe the Chinese have reason to expand their nuclear forces, Rice said that "their modernization has been under way for some time."
Added a senior administration official: "We know the Chinese will enhance their nuclear capability anyway, and we are going to say to them, 'We're not going to tell you not to do it."'
The Associated Press contributed to this report.