Powell Says China ‘Subdued’ About Missile Defense Wade Boese Talking to reporters October 22, Secretary of State Colin Powell described Chinese officials as “rather subdued” about missile defense in recent months. Powell made his comments during a return flight from Shanghai, where he and President George W. Bush attended this year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meetings.
Powell said that missile defenses came up during his Shanghai visit but that there “wasn’t a lingering conversation” about the issue. Neither Bush nor Chinese President Jiang Zemin mentioned missile defenses during the brief press conference following their first-ever meeting October 19. A Chinese Foreign Ministry summary of the two leaders’ talks suggested they focused on economic relations, cooperation against terrorism, and Taiwan, which China claims is the “most sensitive” issue in U.S.-China relations.
At the United Nations, however, Beijing has recently been outspoken against U.S. missile defense plans. On October 10, China co-sponsored with Russia and Belarus a draft resolution supporting the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which the Bush administration says is an impediment to its missile defense plans and wants to scrap. A day earlier in a UN First Committee speech, Chinese Ambassador Hu Xiaodi called on the United States to stop development of “destabilizing missile defense systems.”
A secret U.S. intelligence assessment conducted more than a year ago reportedly warned that China could respond to U.S. missile defenses by expanding tenfold its current arsenal of some 20 long-range ballistic missiles. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden (D-DE) told an audience at the private Council on Foreign Relations on October 22 that, if such reports were correct, the cost of U.S. missile defenses was “not worth it.”
Powell, however, discounted a dramatic buildup. “I have seen nothing to suggest that the Chinese are so concerned about missile defense that they are poised for a breakout…that they would significantly by factors of two, three, four, or five, increase the numbers of their intercontinental ballistic missiles in order to get through a shield,” Powell said on his return flight.
Yet the secretary admitted that, if he were a Chinese general, “one small part of [his] brain” would wonder how U.S. defenses could affect Chinese missiles. Nevertheless, Powell said he hoped that, when the Chinese saw that the defenses are being developed against specific kinds of threats, that they would “not find the need to explode the size of their arsenal.”