Sunday, January 21, 2007

China shoots down satellite

Worrying news carried by several international media that China has the ability to shoot down objects in space. This means the country has the potential to shoot to spy or other communications satellites, which will give it an advantage in the event of a conflict with, for example, the US over Taiwan.

The test of an antisatellite weapon, which the government refused to either confirm or deny today, despite widespread press coverage and diplomatic inquiries, was perceived by regional experts as China’s most provocative military action since it test-fired missiles off the coast of Taiwan more than a decade ago. Unlike the Taiwan exercise, the main intended audience this time was the United States, the sole superpower in space.

Through energetic diplomacy, generous foreign aid and a number of lengthy policy-study white papers, Chinese officials have taken pains in recent yeas to present their country in a very different light: as a new kind of global power that, unlike the United States, has only good will toward other nations.

But some analysts said the antisatellite test showed that the reality is murkier than that. China has surging national wealth, legitimate defense concerns, and an opaque military bureaucracy that may belie its promise of a “peaceful rise.”

New York Times

Rections from around the world:

[Australian Foreign Minister Alexander] Downer expressed several concerns about the Chinese test.

"First of all, the destroyed satellite's causing damage to other satellites," Downer told reporters outside Australia's U.N. Mission after his first meeting with the new U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

"Secondly, it's well known that satellites have important military applications, as it raises questions about this whole issue of the militarization of outer space. ... The Chinese have always opposed the militarization of outer space, so that's why we look forward hearing what they say about the issue."

Dana Perino, deputy White House press secretary, said Friday that Chinese officials have not yet responded to concerns expressed by the U.S.

"We do want cooperation on a civil space strategy, so until we hear back from them or have more information, I don't have any more to add," she said.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tokyo has asked Beijing for an explanation and stressed the importance of the peaceful use of space.

"We must use space for peace," he told reporters. "We are asking the Chinese government about the test."

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso criticized Beijing for failing to give advance notice to Tokyo. He also suggested that Tokyo doubted the test was conducted for "a peaceful use."

Yasuhisa Shiozaki, Japan's top government spokesman, suggested that China's lack of transparency over its military development could trigger suspicions about its motives in the region.

In Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair's spokesman voiced concerns that the debris from the test could strike other satellites orbiting the earth.

"We have concerns about the impact of debris in space and have expressed that concern," Blair's official spokesman said, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government policy. He added "the manner in which this test was conducted is inconsistent with the spirit of China's statement to the U.N. and other bodies on the military use of space."

International Herald Tribune

The Pentagon recently warned in a report to Congress that China's military "is in the process of long-term transformation from a mass army designed for protracted wars of attrition on its territory to a more modern force capable of fighting short-duration, high-intensity conflicts against high-tech adversaries".

The report also noted that "China's military expansion is already such as to alter regional military balances. Long-term trends in China's strategic nuclear forces modernisation, land and sea-based access denial capabilities, and emerging precision-strike weapons have the potential to pose credible threats to modern militaries operating in the region".

BBC News Online

But as the BBC points out, the US alarm at the Chinese anti-satellite test smacks of hypocrisy:

But on the issue of space weapons, the US certainly risks the charge of hypocrisy.

The US has also been carrying out research on lasers that could knock out enemy satellites and the Bush administration has repeatedly ruled out the idea of a global treaty banning putting weapons in space.

Only last August, President Bush laid out a new US national space policy which said Washington would "preserve its rights, capabilities and freedom of action in space" and "dissuade or deter others from either impeding those rights or developing capabilities intended to do so".

It also threatened to "deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to US national interests".

To some extent the announcement of that policy was clearly a response to a perceived threat from China as well as an attempt to preserve the current US advantage in space.

It may be that last week's test is an attempt by China to push back at the US and put pressure on Washington to consider negotiating a treaty to ban weapons in space.

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