The White House also will tell the Chinese that it does not object to China's plan to expand its limited arsenal of nuclear missiles, The New York Times said.
The reported decision by the Bush administration to drop objections to China's plans to build up its nuclear capabilities was questioned on Sunday by a Republican senator who challenged the wisdom of strengthening Beijing's nuclear hand.
Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican just returned from a trip to China, said he intended to talk to the White House about the reported effort by the administration to try to soften Chinese opposition to its missile defense plan, outlined in the Times.
"I am very skeptical about it," Specter told the CBS Face the Nation program. "I would not like to see the Chinese expand their nuclear capability.
"We are looking at a country with 1.25 billion people and they are the coming colossus of the world and a superpower," he said. "I would not like to see them become any more powerful in the nuclear line. I think we ought to formulate our policy in many different ways to try to avoid just that."
The senator, a leading Republican on the Senate Appropriations foreign operations subcommittee, said such a strategy to offset Chinese objections to the U.S. proposals for a missile defense shield is "much too soon" and likely unnecessary as differences with Russia on the question can yet be resolved.
The Times said United States and China might also discuss resuming underground nuclear tests to ensure the reliability of their arsenals, even though the move might lead to the end of a global moratorium on nuclear testing.
Both possibilities were aimed at convincing China that U.S. plans for a missile shield are not intended to undermine Beijing's nuclear capability, but rather to counter threats from so-called rogue states, the Times said, quoting senior U.S. officials.
The new strategy toward China could mark a significant shift in U.S. policy, which has discouraged China and other nations from increasing or testing their nuclear arsenals.
A key Senate Democrat, Sen. Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the plan "absolutely absurd" and told the Times "this is taking 50 years of trying to control nuclear weapons and standing it on its head."
The CIA has warned the administration that a U.S. missile shield could prompt China to expand its arsenal, possibly setting off an arms race across Asia.
The Times said the administration decided on the strategy during a review by officials preparing for U.S. President George W. Bush's trip to China in October.
The Washington Post reported on Sunday that the United States would offer Beijing an advance look at plans for testing the missile efense shield, in another initiative to try to overcome China's opposition to the program.
U.S. officials plan to float some of their new ideas in preparatory talks with Chinese officials before Bush's summit with Chinese President Jiang Zemin, the Post said.
Bush's advisers concluded that China's nuclear modernization is inevitable and that they could gain advantage by acquiescing to it, the Times said.
National security adviser Condoleezza Rice, quoted in the Times, said the United States was not seeking a deal with China.
"The United States is not about to propose to the Chinese that in exchange for Chinese acceptance of missile defense, we will accept a nuclear buildup," the Times quoted her as saying. But she stopped well short of saying that the Bush administration would oppose a Chinese buildup, it said.
"We have told the Chinese that the missile defense system is not aimed at them, and we intend to make that point more forcefully," she said.
China now has some two dozen missiles aimed at the United States. Experts say that number could increase tenfold in the next decade.
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