18 March 2013
China Cites Risk of New Tension as U.S. Bolsters Missile Defenses
By Chris Buckley
The New York Times


HONG KONG — China said Monday that the United States’ decision to strengthen antimissile defenses in response to threats from North Korea risked deepening regional tensions, underscoring Beijing’s caution on further pressuring the North despite its third nuclear test.

Earlier this month, China backed a United Nations Security Council resolution imposing banking, trade and travel sanctions on North Korea after it held the test on Feb. 12.

China’s warning was in response to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s announcement on Friday that the Pentagon would spend $1 billion to put in place more ballistic missile interceptors to counter the growing reach of North Korea’s weapons.

The 14 new interceptors will be in Alaska, where 26 of the existing 30 are already deployed, and American officials said the decision was meant to show its allies South Korea and Japan that the United States would muster the resources needed to deter the North.

But a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hong Lei, told reporters in Beijing that the decision risked adding to regional instability.

“Strengthening antimissile deployments and military alliances can only deepen antagonism and will be of no help to solving problems,” Mr. Hong said, in answer to a reporter’s question about Mr. Hagel’s announcement, according to a transcript on the Foreign Ministry’s Web site.

Mr. Hong did not name the United States, but was plain enough, saying, “China hopes that the country concerned will proceed from the standpoint of protecting regional peace and stability, demonstrate a responsible attitude and act carefully in regard to the antimissile issue.”

China has long served as North Korea’s most important diplomatic and economic supporter. It has opposed North Korean efforts to develop nuclear weapons, but has argued that harsh sanctions will not induce the North to abandon such ambitions.

China’s backing of the Security Council resolution, and open calls from prominent Chinese experts for their government to distance itself from North Korea, stirred speculation among some observers that China might move to reduce its political and economic support for the North.

But Chinese officials have been stressing that North Korea has its own security worries that should be dealt with, and that they do not see sanctions as the right tool to bring the North back to negotiations.

Mr. Hong’s comments appeared to reflect that view. China advocates “resolving missile proliferation issues through political means,” he said.

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