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Asians criticize missile plans

Forums offer global stage for voicing opposition

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BANGKOK, Thailand — Secretary of State Madeleine Albright left Bangkok Saturday after the latest in a series of international gatherings in which U.S. plans for a national missile defense system have been roundly criticized.

China used the final news conference of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' annual forum to pile on its objections.

"We believe this idea of the United States' will inevitably support a new round of arms race and will compromise international peace and stability," said Foreign Minster Tang Jiaxuan. "This issue is by no means a dispute between China and the United States, but between the United States and the international community."

President Clinton heard similar complaints at the Group of Eight industrialized countries' summit a week ago in Okinawa. And a week before that, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott listened to friendly allies criticize the missile system at a foreign ministers' meeting in Miyazaki, Japan.

"It takes time to bring (the Americans) around. Perhaps they will begin to listen to the Greek chorus on this issue," said Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy as he left the Bangkok meeting.

The increased size, frequency and agenda of international forums such as this one in Bangkok have given some countries a bigger pulpit from which to state their opinions, and they are doing so.

With more than 400 reporters here, their comments got more amplification than would a quiet diplomatic note, and Jiaxuan noted pointedly, "We hope the U.S. is fully listening to the common voice of the international community."

Albright left before the news conference for Japan, where voices are less critical on the issue. Japan hopes to develop a localized theater missile defense system with U.S. help and technology that depends in large part on Washington going ahead with its system. Clinton is expected to make a decision on the program this fall, or else leave it for his successor.

But Japan has not publicly risen to the defense of the United States, insisting that its plans are only preliminary and defensive.

Albright is hoping to smooth ruffled feathers in Japan. She skipped both the Miyazaki meeting and the Okinawa summit to attend the Middle East talks at Camp David, and Clinton's presence at the G-8 meeting was shortened for the same reason, provoking some grumbling from the Japanese. Albright was expected to fly today to Miyazaki in southern Japan.

In Bangkok, Albright met Friday with North Korea's foreign minister, Paek Nam Sun, the highest level contact ever between the two countries. But Paek stonewalled her queries about whether North Korea has truly offered to give up its missile development in return for help with launching space satellites. North Korea's missile program is one reason given for a U.S. missile defense system.