By Byun Duk-kun
WASHINGTON, Oct. 13 (Yonhap) -- The United States will continue to consult closely with its Asian allies, including South Korea, on ways to deter China's medium-range missile capabilities, a special U.S. envoy for arms control said Tuesday.
The remarks from Marshall Billingslea, presidential envoy for arms control, came about two weeks after he traveled to South Korea and Japan for such discussions.
"We had very good meetings in both Seoul and Tokyo," he said in a webinar hosted by the Washington-based Heritage Foundation.
Prior to his Sept. 27-28 trip to Seoul, Billingslea told Yonhap News Agency that his visit sought to identify the type of defense capabilities the U.S. allies wished to possess against medium and intermediate-range ballistic missiles held by China and Russia.
The U.S. earlier said it hoped to deploy ground-based intermediate-range missiles in Asia, accusing Russia of developing such capabilities for decades in violation of their 1988 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).
The U.S. withdrew from the INF in August 2019.
Billingslea earlier said it was premature to discuss the possible deployment of U.S. intermediate-range missiles in Asia, noting the U.S. has yet to possess such systems.
On Tuesday, the U.S. envoy insisted there was a "great concern" in Asia about China's "both conventional and nuclear and in the case of their ballistic missiles."
"So again, this is an area that we're going to continue the discussions. And as we write down our capabilities with missile defenses and with medium-range deterrence systems, we are going to be consulting closely with these (South Korea, Japan) and other nations," he told the virtual seminar.
Billingslea, however, noted his discussions with Seoul and Tokyo had been "very different" because of the nature of his country's relationships with the two countries.
Seoul apparently remains reluctant to host any U.S. defense systems that may provoke China, its single largest trading partner, especially after its 2017 hosting of the U.S. THAAD missile defense system against North Korea's nuclear and missile provocations prompted a severe and long-lasting economic retaliation from Beijing.
Tokyo, on the other hand, is said to be willing to host U.S. intermediate-range missiles when developed.
Billingslea also highlighted growing threats from China's nuclear arsenal.
The U.S. Defense Department earlier estimated China to currently possess some 200 nuclear warheads and that the country will likely seek to double the number over the next decade.
Billingslea said Beijing is expected to "at least" double its nuclear arsenal over the next 10 years and that it will unlikely stop boosting its nuclear arsenal until it reaches "near parity" with the United States and Russia, which he said now hold about 1,500 nuclear warheads each.
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