A top Washington arms control official said that the United States together with Australia, Japan and France will send ships to the Western Pacific next week for an exercise simulating an interception.

Next week's "Pacific Protector" exercise is the first of 10 planned in coming months.

But the official rejected concerns that the initiative breached international law and said the participating states had agreed on a set of guidelines on how they would carry out interceptions of ships.

"What we intend to do is consistent with national and international authorities," John Bolton, the US Under Secretary for arms control and international security said.

"Were we think we may have gaps in that authority, we are willing to consider seeking additional authorisation," he said.

But China remained sceptical of the US-initiative to police the high seas and attacked the plan as legally dubious.


China remained sceptical of the US-initiative to police the high seas and attacked the plan as legally dubious

"The best way to prevent proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is through dialogue," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said.

"We understand the concerns of some countries about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction … but many countries still question the efficiency and legitimacy of adopting this kind of measure," he added.

Though not aimed specifically against North Korea, there is little doubt that the reclusive is the prime target of the US plan.

In a high-profile incident last December, Spain had intercepted a North Korean ship in the Arabian Sea carrying Scud missiles for Yemen. The seized vehicle was handed over to the US.

Washington later allowed the ship to continue its voyage after concluding the missile shipment did not break any laws.