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Beijing open to talks on U.S. missile defense

China's top arms control negotiator, reiterating the country's opposition to U.S. development of a national missile defense system or the deployment of a smaller theater missile defense system in Asia, said Wednesday that China was willing to discuss the proposed anti-missile shields with the United States in order to "narrow our differences."

Sha Zukang, director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Department, called the national missile defense plan a U.S. attempt "to seek its own absolute security" at the expense of the security of other countries. He said the presence in Asia of a smaller shield would hurt stability.

But Sha said China was heartened by the Bush administration's recent assurances that the missile defense plan is not meant to neutralize China's ability to defend itself.

"China welcomes the statement, and we are ready to have dialogue and discussions with the Americans," he said.

Sha's remarks came days before China's deputy prime minister, Qian Qichen, goes to the United States to meet President Bush, where he is expected to deliver a similar message.