BEIJING - The presidents of Russia and China attacked U.S. plans for a missile defense system yesterday, calling it an attempt to dominate the world.
Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin accused the United States of undermining global strategic stability, and they warned of a new arms race.
The United States would use a national missile defense "to seek unilateral military and security advantages," the statement said.
The leaders' language was not confrontational, but they agreed to closer cooperation on international affairs and denounced the anti-missile shield.
In the joint statement, they accused Washington of using the shield "to seek unilateral military and security advantages that will pose the most grave, adverse consequences" to China, Russia and the United States itself.
China and Russia hope that by forming a "strategic partnership" they can better resist what they perceive as expanding U.S. influence.
Their joint condemnation of missile defense was the centerpiece of Putin's two-day visit, his first to China as president.
President Clinton is to decide this year whether to deploy a national anti-missile system. One of the factors he must consider is the effect it would have on arms control agreements.
Another system under U.S. consideration is the so-called theater missile defense, which would be based in Asia and would protect U.S. troops and allies in the region.
China's chief arms negotiator, Sha Zukang, warned last week that deploying the systems could unravel nearly 30 years of efforts to control the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Sha said China would protect its interests and probably would cooperate with Russia to correct an imbalance in nuclear power with the United Sates.
Russia has threatened to withdraw from nuclear arms reduction treaties and other arms control agreements.
Jiang and Putin said in their joint statement that deploying anti-missile shields would eviscerate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
Kurt Radtke, a China expert at Tokyo's Waseda University, said reactions to the U.S. missile plan "are probably the most important issues we have been facing since the collapse of the Soviet Union, because they are already contributing to the formation of a new kind of alliance system, and are therefore likely to shape the international system of the future."
China and Russia worry that a regional defense shield would put the defense systems of Japan, South Korea and possibly Taiwan under U.S. control, thereby expanding American power and influence in the region, Radtke said.
U.S. officials say they have not decided whether to include Taiwan in the proposed theater missile-defense system.
A U.S. missile defense system, if built, "virtually cements a new kind of security order, frustrating China's attempts to get Taiwan under its control," Radtke said.
A sustained "strategic partnership" between China and Russia could be a formidable entity; however, it is far from certain that the forces uniting them will prevail over the forces dividing them.
China and Russia share a long border as well as a long history of conflict and mutual suspicion. They both want U.S. technology and capital and access to American markets.
Arthur Waldron, a professor of international relations at the University of Pennsylvania, said there is a lot of bluff in China and Russia's approach to taking on the United States.
"To my mind, Moscow's interests are squarely with the West, and I can't believe that Putin or any other Russian would be so stupid as to sacrifice that for a relationship with China," he said in an interview. Still, he said, the Russian-Chinese relationship "bears a lot of watching."