US a threat? Just ask China

The US may worry about other nuclear countries, but China says US acts

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Like the US, China says it sees the potential emergence of a "rogue" state that could throw the world out of balance early in the next century.

Washington warns that unpredictable regimes in North Korea or Iraq could one day develop long-range missiles and a handful of atomic bombs to engage in nuclear blackmail or worse.

But China's top arms control negotiator, Sha Zukang, says a bigger threat to global stability is already armed to the teeth with hydrogen bombs and sophisticated rockets that can send a nuclear payload to any point on the planet.

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That country, Sha says, is the United States.

"Because the US believes it's the only superpower in the world, it can act at will, without regard for international law and international norms," he says.

Washington seems to be developing a stubbornness against abiding by weapons' control pacts and a greater penchant to use armed force against its real or perceived enemies, Sha complains.

The end of the cold war and the break-up of the Soviet Union has not ushered in an era of global peace, he says.

Rather, it is creating a US that is drunk with its own power and technological prowess, adds Sha, whose official title is director-general of the Arms Control and Disarmament Department of the Chinese foreign ministry.

Sha is not one of the Communist Party hard-liners here who regularly lashes out at the US. Rather, he is affable, cosmopolitan, and open, and seems more disillusioned than angry with the US.

Sha cites as one example of aggressiveness the US bombing of a medical plant in Sudan that American intelligence initially accused of producing chemical weapons.

The 1998 missile attack was not approved by any global organization, and the US has never offered the world community solid proof that the plant made anything but medicine.

"The US bombing of Sudan was an act of state terrorism," Sha says.

There is a growing list, he adds, of similar acts of aggression against sovereign states in violation of the UN Charter or other global laws.

Not only did the US and NATO launch a massive attack on Yugoslavia without obtaining the UN's approval, but the coalition delivered, with pinpoint precision, five missiles into Beijing's embassy in Belgrade.

That bombing "was an obvious violation of the Vienna Convention," he says. While Beijing appreciates Washington's apologies and compensation for victims of the attack, the US government "still has to identify the culprits [behind the bombing] and bring them to justice."

A US official formerly based in Beijing agrees. "So far the [US] government has said institutional mistakes led to the bombing of the Chinese Embassy," says the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "But specific individuals were responsible for mistakenly targeting the embassy, and heads should roll as a result of those fatal mistakes."

Sha suggests the growing disregard of the US for international weapons conventions and rules of war is, in turn, making China more circumspect about joining arms control regimes.

"We might have already ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty if not for the bombing of our embassy in Yugoslavia," he says.

That treaty, which aims to ban all nuclear weapons testing, was rejected by the US Senate even though "the US was the first country to promote and to sign the treaty," Sha says.

Sha says he is puzzled by the vote not only because Washington was one of the pact's top proponents, but also because it would have allowed the US to lock in its nuclear superiority and prevent any wannabes from gate-crashing the nuclear club.

"The US has the biggest and most sophisticated nuclear arsenal in the world," and could have frozen that advantage perpetually by signing the treaty, he says.

Instead, the Senate's vote against ratification is alienating the US from the rest of the world, Sha says. "Not a single country in the world has given its support for the US Senate's rejection of the treaty."

China's defense ministry is now reviewing the test ban pact, and hints that Beijing could ratify it early next year, during a spring meeting of the national legislature.

"I negotiated [the treaty] - it's my baby," says Sha, who adds that he wants to see it ratified as soon as possible.

Washington's abandonment of the nuclear treaty it pushed so hard to help produce "was wrong politically and morally, but at least it did not violate any international agreements," Sha says.

More alarming, he says, is a US plan to build a national antimissile shield that would violate the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty.

Russia, which also signed the ABM pact, and China last week introduced a resolution in the United Nations warning the US not to break the treaty.

Defense experts in Russia, the US, and China agree that if the Pentagon starts building the missile defense system, a "star wars"-like project designed to shoot down incoming rockets, countries that fear a nuclear first strike from the US could speed up their own missile production as a countermeasure.

Sha says "the ABM is a cornerstone of maintaining global strategic stability," and warns that if Washington violates the pact after refusing to approve the nuclear test ban, the twin actions "could trigger a worldwide chain reaction."

"This has the possibility to destroy all the progress we have made in nuclear nonproliferation ... in the post-cold-war era," Sha says.

He says that the US moves "may touch off an arms race in all fields, including the nuclear and missile fields."

Sha adds that setting up a missile defense in violation of the ABM treaty could also, for the first time in human history, "set off an arms race in outer space."

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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