Video: Will China step up the militarization of space?

updated 1/22/2007 1:22:02 PM ET 2007-01-22T18:22:02

Blasting a satellite out of the heavens may have been China’s blunt way of demanding a bigger say in space security, Chinese experts said on Monday, while voicing puzzlement about the apparent test and Beijing’s long silence.

Chinese arms control specialists with military backgrounds told Reuters they did not know if China had indeed fired an anti-satellite missile on Jan. 11, in what Washington last week called an alarming escalation of military rivalry in space.

Xia Liping, a People’s Liberation Army officer and professor at the Shanghai Institute for International Strategic Studies, said Beijing did not want an arms race in space. But the reported test may have been intended to push Washington towards international talks aimed at preventing a race, he suggested.

“The weaponization of space would be very dangerous; it could lead to a new arms race,” said Xia, who stressed he had no firm knowledge of any test. “I would say, though, that in the history of arms control the rule is that the United States is willing to ban a military capability only when other countries possess it.”

The Bush administration has announced plans to maintain U.S. dominance of outer space and prevent other states from threatening its satellites, vital nerves of commerce and security. But China is wary.

“Chinese officials believe the real purpose of U.S. space plans is not to protect U.S. assets but to further enhance U.S. military dominance,” Hui Zhang, a researcher at Harvard University, wrote in a study recently issued by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (PDF file).

Worry in Beijing
Chinese textbooks and speeches show that the country’s diplomats and military are worried that U.S. ambitions are leaving China vulnerable.

“The militarization of space will also become the focus of all military great powers’ national security and development strategy,” states a 2006 textbook on space weapons written by officers from China’s Second Artillery Battalion, which wields the country’s nuclear arsenal. “The flames and smoke of war will rise in a new battlefield — space.”

Chinese military writings also leave no doubt that the PLA has been studying how to directly counter U.S. plans, according to a compilation issued last week by Michael Pillsbury, a researcher close to the Pentagon.

“There is an active group in China not only advocating the weaponisation of space, but also putting forward specific proposals for implementation of a Chinese space-based weapons programme,” Pillsbury wrote in the study for Congress’ U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (PDF file).

But China lags far behind the United States in space technology and does not want to divert its civilian space resources to military uses, said Teng Jianqun, a former People's Liberation Army officer who now studies space policy at the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, a government-run think tank.

“China does not want to follow the United States into this,” said Teng, who said he was skeptical about the reported test. “We need to sit down and work out the rules of the game to prevent this trend taking on a life of its own.”

‘Baffling’ silence
If the Jan. 11 blast was intended to wake up Washington and push for negotiations, the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s silence about the claim is “baffling,” said Xu Guangyu, another ex-PLA officer at the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association.

Chinese diplomats had yet to explain or deny the satellite test, even in private, The New York Times reported on Monday, citing senior Washington officials.

“I don’t know whether the American reports about the satellite are true. It’s odd and abnormal that they haven’t said anything,” Xu said of China’s diplomats. “If it is a negotiating chip, it’s illogical not to come out and announce something. But a side effect may be that it makes us sit down together and talk.”

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.


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