Geneva: China’s foreign minister warned on Wednesday that there was a “looming danger” of an arms race in outer space, as he urged countries not to deploy missile defence systems that could undermine global security.

“The practice of seeking absolute strategic advantage should be abandoned,” Yang Jiechi told the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva.

“Countries should neither develop missile defence systems that undermine global strategic security nor deploy weapons in outer space,” he added.

US President Barack Obama has been reviewing a planned missile defence shield championed by his predecessor, which remains a major source of tension with Russia.

The Obama administration has not backed down from the shield, which would partly be based in Poland and the Czech Republic, but insists that is not directed against Russia.

Russia’s air force commander said on Monday that Moscow was developing new missiles to counter space-based systems that could soon be deployed by the United States.

“Outer space is now facing the looming danger of weaponisation,” said Yang.

“Credible and effective multilateral measures must be taken to forestall the weaponisation and arms race in outer space,” he added, calling such steps of “high strategic significance.”

Both Russia and China have proposed a new treaty banning the use of weapons in space, but the idea has been rejected by the United States.

Nonetheless, the issue is one of those up for international discussion under the Conference on Disarmament’s recent landmark decision to revive talks after more than a decade of deadlock.

In a speech reaffirming China’s commitment to international nuclear weapons safeguards and disarmament, Yang backed attempts to strengthen the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency and to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.

“The international security situation is undergoing the most profound change since the end of the Cold War,” Yang acknowledged. “Unprecedented opportunities now exist in international disarmament.”

Yang reiterated China’s insistance on a peaceful resolution of the nuclear standoffs with North Korea and Iran, and called on the IAEA to play a greater role in promoting the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

That should include “the possibility of establishing a multilateral nuclear fuel supply mechanism,” he added. Western countries have been sceptical of the idea proposed by Russia.

The Chinese foreign minister stopped short of signalling Beijing’s swifter ratification of a ban on nuclear tests.

“The Chinese government is dedicated to promoting early ratification of the treaty and will continue to make active efforts toward this end,” Yang said, pledging to work with the international community for “early entry into force.”

Although China was amongst the first to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, it is one of nine nations that are preventing its entry into force because they have either not ratified or signed it.

The only other traditional nuclear power not to have ratified is the United States.

However, Obama announced in April that he wanted to press ahead with US ratification, reversing the stance of George W. Bush’s administration.

The other outstanding ratifications are Egypt, Indonesia, Iran and Israel.

India, Pakistan, and North Korea have not signed the test ban treaty, which is regarded as a cornerstone of efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and promote disarmament.