WASHINGTON — As tensions mount over North Korea’s developing nuclear program, China is warning the United States that its plans to beef up missile defenses could cause more problems.

“Bolstering missile defenses will only intensify antagonism, and it doesn’t help to solve the issue,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei said Monday in Beijing, according to a CNN report.

On Friday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced a nearly $1 billion plan to install 14 additional ground-based interceptors at Fort Greely, Alaska, raising the number of West Coast-based interceptors to 44.

Rather than stepping back, however, defense officials in Washington on Monday reminded North Korea of the power of the weaponry arrayed against it, pointing out that a nuclear capable B-52 bomber flying from Guam had flown over South Korea on March 8 in a routine exercise.

“We are in the midst right now of sending a very strong signal that we have a firm commitment to the alliance with our Republic of Korea allies,” Pentagon press secretary George Little told reporters. “This is a stepped-up training effort to demonstrate our resolve to protect South Korea and to try to preserve peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.”

Hagel said Friday that North Korea “has recently made advances in its capabilities and is engaged in a series of irresponsible and reckless provocations.”

The United States also will study locations for a new missile interceptor complex, he announced, and forge ahead with plans to install another early warning missile-defense radar in Japan.

The Pentagon said the moves are a response to the increasing sophistication of North Korea’s nuclear program the nation is moving quickly to develop both its warhead technology and the long-range rocket capability needed to carry out long-distance strikes.

Tensions increased in December after the secretive regime launched a satellite aboard a rocket that some observers said was a test bed for a future intercontinental ballistic missile. Then, in February, North Korea announced it had successfully exploded a third nuclear device underground.

North Korean officials followed up with a series of rhetorical blasts. It threatened to destroy Washington, D.C., said it would annihilate a South Korean island, and declared the armistice that brought the Korean War to a halt more than a half-century ago to be defunct. Twitter: @ChrisCarroll_

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