updated 2/13/2007 1:42:29 PM ET 2007-02-13T18:42:29

The United States clashed with China and Russia during a disarmament debate Tuesday over how to prevent an arms race in outer space, and Washington criticized Beijing for its recent test of an anti-satellite missile.

Russia and China, in turn, condemned the “one state” that refuses to consider a treaty banning space weapons — a reference to the U.S.

The meeting of the 65-nation Conference on Disarmament came a month after China launched a warhead from a ballistic missile to destroy one of its old weather satellites — a test that was widely criticized as a provocative display of the Asian country’s growing military capability.

Despite the test, Beijing joined Moscow on Tuesday in renewing their 5-year-old initiative to establish an international accord against weapons deployment in outer space. They maintain that Washington’s developing anti-missile systems could set off a new arms race.

“The notion that introducing weapons and the threat of force into outer space could be a sustainable way of securing strategic advantage and legitimate defense objectives is fundamentally flawed,” they said in a working paper distributed to delegations.

China and Russia said attempts to have global military dominance by the use of space “are counterproductive and jeopardize the security of all humanity.”

One country’s bid to have “impregnable defenses” is dangerous because it could “lead to new instruments of war and to an arms race,” the paper said.

U.S. Ambassador Christina Rocca sought to correct what she said were misconceptions about U.S. space policy. She said Washington was committed to ensuring the use of space for peaceful purposes, but insisted that it would pursue programs to ensure that its satellites and other spacecraft were protected.

“Put simply, these assets are vital to our national security, including our economic interests, and must be defended,” Rocca told delegations.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said her country “has always advocated the peaceful use of space, and advocates strengthening international exchanges and cooperation on the peaceful use of outer space.”

The Russian and Chinese proposal has been stymied by the United States since they introduced it in 2002, two weeks after the United States withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty.

President Bush signed an order in October tacitly asserting the U.S. right to space weapons, and opposing the development of treaties or other measures restricting them.

Rocca told the conference, “We must be very concerned about the emerging threats to our space assets,” citing China’s Jan. 11 test, which she said “created hundreds of pieces of large orbital debris, the majority of which will stay in orbit for more than 100 years.”

China’s neighbors Japan and South Korea also have expressed concern about the dangers to their satellite communications posed by the debris.

Rocca said the U.S. was only exercising its right to self-defense.

“The United States is not out to claim space for its own or weaponize it,” but needs to develop the defenses because a “relatively small number of countries” either possess or are developing the capability to attack and defeat vital U.S. space systems by jamming satellite links, blinding sensors or launching anti-satellite weapons, she said.

Nevertheless, Rocca said, “we believe there is no arms race in space, and therefore no problem for arms control to solve.”

Japanese Ambassador Sumio Tarui described the Sino-Russian plan as “vague and obscure.”

German Ambassador Bernhard Brassack, speaking on behalf of the 27-nation European Union, said countries should be realistic seek a compromise short of a full treaty.

“The recent test of an anti-satellite weapon should serve as a wake-up call,” he said.

On Monday, former Japanese defense chief Fukushiro Nukaga said Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan told him the test wasn’t targeted at any other nations and there were no plans for a follow-up.

Despite such assurances, several countries and scientists have expressed concern that the debris created by the test could damage or interfere with satellites in orbit.

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