GENEVA -- In a challenge to Bush administration plans for a missile defense shield, China and Russia on Thursday submitted a joint proposal to the Conference on Disarmament for a new international treaty to ban weapons in outer space.
It marked the first joint Russia-China initiative on the issue, which has long been a priority for Beijing because of its fears that U.S. development of a missile defense will inevitably involve outer space.
"We support the urgent adoption today of all measures possible in order to prevent the deployment of weapons in outer space, rather than waste subsequently huge efforts and resources to have it "de-weaponized," said Russian Ambassador Leonid Skotnikov.
But the proposal looks certain to deepen the divisions that have dogged the conference -- the world's main body for negotiating arms-control treaties -- since 1996.
The Russian-Chinese plan followed the U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in order to permit development of defense systems to guard against terrorist threats.
Russia and China are among many to object to the U.S. withdrawal from the treaty, which they regard as a cornerstone of global efforts to prevent nuclear war.
The conference counts the nuclear test ban treaty and ban on chemical weapons among its achievements. But it has been blocked by differences among the world's major powers over missile defense and other ways to curb nuclear weapons.
U.S. responds to move
The United States denies that it is planning to put weapons in space. In a speech to the conference, U.S. negotiator Eric M. Javits reiterated Washington's resistance to any type of new regime on outer space.
"The United States sees no need for new outer space arms control agreements and opposes the idea of negotiating a new outer space treaty," he said.
Javits said Washington was prepared to have general discussions on an agreement. But he rejected any suggestion that these discussions would ultimately lead to a legally binding treaty.
China's Hu Xiaodi said the only way forward was a treaty-based prohibition on the deployment of weapons in outer space.
The core of the planned treaty should be an agreement not to place in orbit any objects with any kinds of weapons, not to install such weapons on celestial bodies; not to resort to the threat of force against outer space objects; and not to help other countries do likewise.