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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

AUSTRALIA SEEN TO PLAY KEY ROLE IN US-PLANNED THEATER MISSILE DEFENSE

Canberra, Oct. 13 (CNA) Australia is set to play a major role in the US-planned theater missile defense (TMD) system in its bid to strengthen ties with America but at the risk of angering mainland China, the Australian on Wednesday reported.

The newspaper reported the new role may also reinforce Southeast Asian perceptions of Australia as a US surrogate in the region after US Secretary of the Air Force F. Whitten Peters on Tuesday emphasized the vital role of Australia's Pine Gap joint facility in a new generation space-based infra-red missile defense system called SBIRS.

The daily quoted Peters as saying that SBIRS would be critical to the operation of the controversial TMD system being considered for Japan and Taiwan.

The US-proposed system has deeply angered China because Beijing regards it as aimed at the mainland and it does not want Taiwan to be included in the planned system.

The daily quoted Professor Stuart Harris of the Australian National University in Canberra as saying on Tuesday night that the US theater missile defense plans had not only angered China, but were likely to destabilize relations between regional powers.

The daily reported that the Australian government, however, takes the opposite view, reflecting the heated debate among security analysts.

The daily quoted a spokesman for Defense Minister John Moore as revealing that the government considered TMD to be an intrinsically defensive system that did not threaten the security of any nation.

"The government's policy is one of strong opposition to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Our involvement in the joint facility of activities is designed to counter the destabilising effects of ballistic missile proliferation," the spokesman told the daily. The daily reported Peters made the remarks at a ceremony marking the closure of the US-Australian Joint Defense Facility at Nurrungar, near Woomera in South Australia on Tuesday.

Peters said there would be "absolutely" no weakening in the Australia-US defense ties over the base closure. New technology has, since October 1, allowed satellite information to be transmitted to the US from a new relay station at Pine Gap, near Alice Springs, rendering the Nurrungar base redundant, the daily reported.

The daily reported Peters as saying that Australia retained full access to the information.

The improved technology enables satellites to detect launches of smaller, theater missiles, using satellites of the 30-year-old Defense Support Program, the daily reported. This system will be replaced by the new SBIRS system in 2004, it said. (By Peter Chen)




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