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China's Bold Step Into Space

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By John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom
February 2, 2007

U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Robert Joseph said yesterday that China's January 11, 2007 test of an anti-satellite weapon that left orbiting debris threatening U.S. and foreign satellites proving that space is a "contested environment."

Mr. Joseph said that "countries are developing capabilities to put at risk our assets for which we are dependent," he said.

The U.S. military is heavily dependant upon satellites for intelligence gathering, missile attack warning, navigation, communications and scores of other uses. U.S. commerce and communications are also heavily reliant upon satellites.

China's January 11 test used a rocket launched from earth to ram into an old Chinese communications satellite. The demonstration showed a never before seen Chinese capability indicating both that China felt a need to test the capability and China wanted to know it had this capacity.

"The U.S. believes China's development and testing of such weapons is inconsistent with the spirit of cooperation that both countries aspire to in the civil space area," National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said. "We and other countries have expressed our concern regarding this action to the Chinese."

"This is a wake-up call," Mr. Joseph said, noting that the United States needs "to ensure that we take the steps necessary to protect the space assets and the right to unfettered access to space."

The test by China was also an extremely provocative action.

"This is bad news," said Peter Brookes, Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs and Chung Ju-Yung Fellow for Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation.

"For starters, it calls into question China's mantra that its unprecedented military buildup is for self-defense, that its rise to world power will be peaceful," said Mr. Brookes.

Mr. Brookes said that China had reiterated many times that "It's a threat to no one - and it will only use space for peaceful purposes."

Writing in The Washington Times on January 28, Mr. James Hackett, a former U.S. arms control official, said, "Preoccupied with the war in Iraq and beleaguered by the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea, the Bush administration has been seeking good relations with China. Last week Beijing's rulers answered with the back of their hand - shooting down a satellite in the first destruction of an object in space in more than 20 years."

The test may have violated an understanding struck last April between President Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao.

The Bush administration has now suspended plans to develop space ventures with China.

The U.S. and Russia, though they have both experimented with anti-satellite weapons, came to a consensus that destroying satellites in space would become perilous to all nations as thousands of pieces of debris could hurtle into satellites of many nations.

Neither the U.S. nor Russia are believed to hold an operation, tested anti-satellite "system," though it is likely the capability could be reconstituted.

U.S. House of Representatives member Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher, California Democrat and chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, said China's action poses a "major problem and something the world community needs to address."

"We're now stuck with hundreds of pieces of this Chinese satellite for a hundred years, and it's having an impact on the entire global commons," she said, noting that there needs to be "common norms and acceptable rules of behavior in space."

Mr. Hackett said, "The destruction of a satellite by a Chinese rocket shows the need for the capability to hold China's satellites at risk."

Bill Gertz of The Washington Times reported on China's test and the repercussions in today's editions.

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John E. Carey is the former president of International Defense Consultants, Inc.
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