Order Code RS20031
Updated March 17, 1999
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
China and U.S. Missile Defense Proposals:
Reactions and Implications
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
The Chinese government has strongly criticized U.S. announcements that it will
develop or assist in deploying missile defense systems involving cooperation with U.S.
allies in East Asia, and reports of such possible U.S. cooperation with Taiwan. For those
in the United States, the U.S. plans have many perceived disadvantages and advantages;1
the latter include notably providing degrees of protection for the United States and its
allies against ballistic missile attack. Many in China believe that proposed U.S.
development and deployment of ballistic missile defenses at home and in East Asia pose
potentially serious complications for China’s ability to use its nuclear weapons to deter
possible U.S. pressure and aggression, and to use Chinese ballistic missile capability to
exert leverage over Japan, Taiwan, and others in East Asia. Beijing’s options include
using political means to curb U.S. efforts or to seek reassurances from the United States;
military options include increasing the number of Chinese missiles and warheads, and
using force to intimidate Taiwan from developing a viable missile defense system.
Though the U.S. government may attempt to reassure China that it is not the target of
the new systems, initial Chinese reactions suggest that the United States may face serious
difficulties with China if on balance it sees U.S. interests well served by current plans and
goes ahead with them, and especially if it supports ballistic missile defense efforts in
Taiwan. This report will be updated periodically.
The Chinese government has strongly criticized U.S. announcements that it will
develop or assist in deploying missile defense systems involving cooperation with U.S.
In March 1999, legislation favoring a national missile defense for the United States (S. 257 and
H.R. 4) received close congressional attention. For a review of the arguments about these systems,
see National Missile Defense, by Steven Hildreth, CRS Report 96-441; and Theater Air and
Missile Defense, by Robert Shuey, CRS Issue Brief 98028. See also Ballistic Missile Defenses,
CRS Info Pack IP496.
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
allies in East Asia, and reports of such possible U.S. cooperation with Taiwan. In the past
few months, Chinese media and government spokesmen have warned against U.S. efforts
to work with Japan to develop a Theater Missile Defense (TMD) system that would
protect Japanese and U.S. forces there from the growing ballistic missile threat posed by
North Korea or other countries.2 They also have criticized strongly reports coming from
Taiwan that the United States is considering assisting Taiwan in the face of a perceived
growing ballistic missile threat from mainland China.3
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) Foreign Ministry, in an unusually detailed
statement by its spokesman on January 21, 1999 laid out China’s position in opposition
to U.S. announced or reported efforts in these areas.4 Specifically, the statement noted:
! China’s “grave concern” over Defense Secretary Cohen’s announcement the
previous day of plans to develop a National Missile Defense (NMD) system for the
United States, and TMD systems for East Asia and possibly elsewhere, and to seek
revision of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in order to carry out these
efforts. The spokesman said these decisions will have “wide-ranging and far
reaching negative impacts on the global and regional strategic balance and
stability,” will promote missile proliferation, and will violate the ABM Treaty,
which China strongly supports.
! China’s belief that U.S. cooperation with Japan and other countries to develop
TMD to protect U.S. forces and allies in East Asia or other regions will have a
serious adverse impact on the security and stability of these regions.
! China’s “special emphasis” on Taiwan. He asserted that any supply of TMD
equipment or technology to Taiwan will be considered a move that seriously
infringes on China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and “will certainly meet
with strong opposition from the Chinese people.”
U.S. media reports note the dilemma the Clinton Administration faces in not wishing
to seriously alienate China and possibly upset its engagement policy with the PRC as it
pursues missile defense options supported by Japan and others abroad as well as by the
U.S. Congress.5 Among the many actions taken by the 105th Congress in support of greater
U.S. missile defense efforts, the FY-1999 Defense Authorization Act required a Defense
Department report to Congress laying out a TMD architecture to protect U.S. forces and
allies in Asia and the Pacific; the FY1999 Defense Appropriations Act required a Defense
Department report to Congress on the military balance in the Taiwan area. That report,
released on February 17, 1999, discussed the growing PRC ballistic missile capability
against Taiwan. The House also passed a resolution urging U.S. missile defense
See among others, “News Analysis: Japan Strikes Military Pose,” Xinhua, January 15, 1999.
See among others, “ARATS Official on Wang Visit, TMD, Reunification,” Xinhua, January 19,
1999, replayed by Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) Internet version.
“Spokesman expresses ‘grave concern’ over NMD, TMD,” Xinhua, January 21, 1999, replayed
by FBIS Internet version.
New York Times, January 22, 1999.
cooperation with Taiwan6. Following Secretary of State Albright’s early March 1999 visit
to Beijing to discuss the dispute over missile defense and other issues, Chinese officials
increased public criticism with the foreign minister and the premier denouncing the plans.7
Chinese Nuclear and Ballistic Missile Forces: Status and Intentions8
Since the mid-1950s, China has made strong efforts within its limited economic and
technical capabilities to develop a modest nuclear force and related delivery systems in
! help deter superpower or regional (e.g., Indian) conflict and intimidation;
! secure a strategic retaliatory capability in case of a nuclear war; and
! demonstrate China's international power.
China's few dozen nuclear-capable bombers are too slow and technically backward
to penetrate modern air defenses. Beijing relies for nuclear weapons delivery mainly on
its mobile ground-based and nascent sea-based ballistic missiles (about 100 missiles).
China's current mobile missiles, land-or sea-based, are not long range and generally would
not be addressed by the proposed NMD system. They may be blocked by the TMD
systems proposed by U.S. advocates.9 About 20 longer-range Chinese ICBMs, mainly
silo-based missiles may, be able to overwhelm a limited national missile defense system.
But as static targets, those silo-based missiles might be vulnerable to attack by an
adversary with sufficiently accurate ballistic missiles (both Russia and the United States
have such missiles). China is in the final stages of developing a mobile long-range ballistic
missile that would not have this vulnerability.
Against this backdrop, many in China believe that the proposed U.S. development
and deployment of ballistic missile defenses at home and in East Asia pose potentially
serious complications for China's ability to use its nuclear weapons to deter possible U.S.
aggression, pressure, intimidation or other such actions, including the possible U.S.
military intervention against a Chinese military operation against Taiwan.10 If the United
States were to share this system with Russia, as well as other Chinese neighbors (e.g.,
Japan and South Korea), the effects on Chinese nuclear strike calculations could be
substantial. During the U.S.-China crisis in the Taiwan Strait in 1995 and 1996, a senior
Chinese general noted the PRC ability to threaten Los Angeles with a ballistic missile
Reviewed in Taiwan, CRS Issue Brief 98034 (updated regularly).
See notably Premier Zhu Rongji’s press conference remarks of March 15, 1999, carried by
For background, see China: Ballistic and Cruise Missiles, by Shirley Kan and Robert Shuey,
CRS Report 97-391.
Advanced TMD systems would have interceptors that could target an incoming ballistic missile
with a range of about 3,200 km or less. The longest range Chinese missiles may move toward
targets at speeds that would prevent them from being intercepted by missiles currently envisioned
for the U.S. TMD systems. Interviews conducted in Washington, DC, January 1999.
For background, see Theater Missile Defenses: Possible Chinese Reactions: U.S. Implications
and Options, by Robert Sutter, CRS Report 94-154, February 23, 1994.
attack in the event of U.S. military involvement in opposition to the PRC over Taiwan.11
A National Missile Defense shield for the United States could reduce or eliminate this
Meanwhile, Chinese military strategy has put more emphasis in recent years on the
use of conventionally armed, shorter range ballistic missiles. These weapons (notably the
M-9 missile12 having a range of 375 miles) were featured in the military exercises Beijing
launched against Taiwan in 1995 and 1996, and are widely seen as an implicit source of
PRC leverage in efforts to press Taiwan to reunify with the mainland on terms acceptable
to the PRC.13
Possible Chinese Reactions
U.S. policymakers will consider many factors14 in determining whether and how to
develop and deploy missile defense systems at home, in East Asia and elsewhere, and
whether and how to share such systems with Taiwan. Advocates see a variety of benefits
for the security of the United States, U.S. forces in East Asia, and U.S. allies and friends
in the region. Among possible negative factors for consideration are Beijing’s possible
reactions to such U.S. actions. In general, China’s possible reactions are seen as following
two paths. One involves possible Chinese military-political measures directly related to
the U.S. actions. The other involves broader Chinese international security policy and
relations with the United States.
! Beijing could choose to wait until the U.S. and its allies and associates actually
develop and deploy defensive systems affecting Chinese missile forces. Chinese
leaders have seen Washington and Moscow debate such anti-ballistic missile
systems for a long time, going back to the 1960s. But the results have not
substantially jeopardized Chinese missile capabilities.
! Beijing could endeavor to use arms control initiatives to halt or curb missile
defense developments and/or deployment. In the process, China might be prepared
to offer concessions in other areas (e.g., China’s development of nuclear-capable
missiles and proliferation of those missiles or related technology) deemed important
to the United States and its allies and associates.
! China could seek formal reassurances from the United States that missile
defense systems would not be directed at China, and that the United States would
deploy them in ways that would be seen by Beijing as not primarily directed against
Chinese missiles. (This may be hard to do, and could prove to be especially difficult
if Japan and South Korea were to receive TMD systems. Such deployments would
New York Times, January 25, 1996.
This missile can be armed with a conventional or a weapons of mass destruction warhead.
See among others, Taiwan, CRS Issue Brief 98034.
See sources noted in footnote 1.
presumably work in protecting these countries against most Chinese missiles as well
as North Korean missiles. Of course, any U.S. support for missile defense in
Taiwan would be seen as directed solely against the PRC.)
! Beijing could increase proliferation of weapons of mass destruction technology,
delivery systems, or other such sensitive material in unstable areas of keen interest
to U.S. policy (e.g. the Persian Gulf).
! China could pursue military measures to counter missile defenses. This could
involve developing a greater number of and more capable missiles, using decoys
and so-called penetration aids, developing multiple warheads for existing or future
Chinese missiles, increasing the mobility of China's longest range missiles, and other
steps. Beijing may feel compelled to resume nuclear testing in order to develop
warheads better able to penetrate missile defenses.
! China could launch military actions near Taiwan and possibly Japan as a
warning against developing missile defenses. Such actions could include a repeat
of the live-fire artillery and ballistic missile exercises seen in the Taiwan area in
1995 and 1996.15
Chinese International Security Policy
U.S. action on missile defense may affect an on-going debate in China over
international security policy and relations with the United States.16 Even if U.S. intentions
were otherwise, Chinese leaders could conclude from such U.S. development and
deployment that the United States and its partners see China as a real or potential
adversary that cannot be trusted and needs to be checked with missile defenses. Others
in China argue that China's interests are best served through closer economic, political and
other interaction with the United States and its allies.
The outcome of this debate will probably be among the factors determining how
accommodating China is prepared to be on the wide range of bilateral, regional, and global
issues important to the United States. Issues range from Chinese policies on nuclear and
missile proliferation, trade questions, and human rights conditions, to Beijing's role in
dealing with the danger posed by North Korea's nuclear program, global arms control
efforts, and other issues.17
U.S. Implications and Options
This brief review of possible Chinese reactions suggests that the United States may
face serious difficulties regarding China if the U.S. develops and deploys missile defense
systems at home and East Asia, and especially if it supports ballistic missile defense efforts
in Taiwan. Most notably, China might see little choice other than to increase nuclear-
Reviewed in Taiwan, CRS Issue Brief 98034.
For background see Chinese Policy Priorities and Their Implications for the United States, by
Robert Sutter, CRS Report 98-802, September 23, 1998.
See Dumbaugh, Kerry, China-U.S. Relations, CRS Issue Brief 98018 (updated regularly).
capable and conventional missile testing, development and deployment--thereby
challenging U.S. interests in curbing missile development, and reducing the numbers of
nuclear arms. Beijing may even feel compelled to resume nuclear testing in order to
develop weapons better able to penetrate missile defenses. There is a distinct possibility
of military tension in the Taiwan area.
U.S. concern with these possible developments will be weighed against the many
perceived benefits for the United States, U.S. forces overseas, and U.S. allies and
associates of the proposed NMD, TMD, and possible U.S. sharing of such systems with
Taiwan. U.S. advocates of these approaches likely will urge going forward as a means of
increasing protection of the United States and its allies despite Chinese criticism and
opposition. Some in this group also believe that current high-level PRC criticism is
designed to intimidate the United States and therefore judge that giving in to PRC pressure
would send the wrong signal about U.S. determination to play a leading strategic role in
Asian affairs. Others may seek to reassure China that it is not the target of the new
systems, perhaps even offering to share information about the system with China.
Although Beijing is thought to be interested in learning about missile defenses, this benefit
may not be sufficient to offset the negative impact of the missile defenses system in the
United States and East Asia on Chinese missile forces and missile modernization. Some
observers suggests the United States could endeavor to offset China for this impact on
Chinese security concerns with gestures in other areas. Possibilities include more
liberalized U.S. civil technology transfer policies, easing Chinese market access to the
United States, stronger support for China's entry into World Trade Organization (WTO),
stronger U.S. backing for Beijing's position vis-a-vis Taiwan, and other steps. Of course,
each of these gestures would have consequences for other kinds of U.S. interests and
opposition from certain sectors.
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