US presses China for details of missile test

Tokyo, Taipei and New Delhi join Washington in voicing concern about shooting down of satellite.

PRESSURE is rising on Beijing to reveal more about its recent anti-satellite test, a move that is expected to strengthen US hawks in their demands for stronger measures against China.

Yesterday, the United States and Australia urged China to provide more details about its reported missile test on Jan 11, in which it was said to have shot down one of its own weather satellites.

US State Department spokesman Tom Casey said: “We have asked the Chinese to give us some greater details about what they did, why they did it, and explain it in greater detail to us simply because of the concerns that we have about this issue.”

The Bush administration, which kept the test under wraps for the past week while assessing its significance, registered its opposition on Friday to “any militarisation of space”.

In Taipei, a Defence Ministry spokesman said yesterday that Taiwan was assessing the impact of the test on its security and cross-strait peace, and will come up with “corresponding measures”.

The Taiwanese government said the missile test had cast doubt on China’s expressions about its “peaceful rise” to power.

“We urge the international community to express their concerns over China’s move, which would have a negative impact on peace in the Taiwan Strait and in the region,” said Cabinet spokesman Cheng Wen-tsang.

Japan said it had received no advance notice from China about the test. Foreign Minister Taro Aso said Tokyo was told about the test by Washington, and that Tokyo had asked Beijing for confirmation of the report.

But the response was that China had consistently used outer space for peaceful purposes. “There is a problem from the viewpoint of the peaceful use of outer space and of security,” said Mr Aso.

The missile blast was disclosed by US officials on Friday but has yet to be confirmed by China.

“There is no need to feel threatened about this. We are not going to get into any arms race in space” was all Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said. The missile was said to have been fired from the Xichang space centre in central Sichuan province and destroyed a Chinese weather satellite launched in 1999.

For Pentagon planners, it has raised concerns about the threat to US military operations.

China’s weather satellites travel at about the same altitude as American spy “birds” – known as reconnaissance low earth orbit (LEO) satellites.

The Nelson Report, a Washington-based insider perspective on international events, explained that many of the LEO satellites routinely pass over Chinese territory, or close to it.

This problem would certainly enter into calculations in the event of a Taiwan crisis.

The report noted: “It is not that China never had the ability to disable our satellites before, but it was a very blunt tool…Now, the Chinese have demonstrated that they can be more selective in the matter if they choose.”

In October last year, President George W. Bush signed an order asserting the US right to deny adversaries access to space for hostile purposes.

As part of the first revision of American space policy in nearly a decade, it also said that Washington would oppose the development of treaties or other restrictions that seek to prohibit US access to or use of space.

Undoubtedly, China’s test will reinforce the views of hardliners – especially in the Pentagon and Vice-President Dick Cheney’s office – that stronger measures need to be taken to check Chinese military power.

Existing containment strategies include building a national missile defence system aimed at incoming intercontinental ballistic missiles from China and stepping up defence links with Japan, key allies in South-east Asia and India.

Indian defence experts and the media yesterday sounded the alarm over the threat to India’s own space and military ambitions.

“It threatens our own expanding civilian space assets,” The Indian Express said in an editorial. “India can either respond with a robust military space effort in collaboration with the US or consign itself to the status of a second-rate power in Asia.

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