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U.S. seeks space dialogue with China

China’s test of an anti-satellite weapon last month underscores U.S. frustration in efforts to forge reliable communications with the secretive Chinese military, a senior Pentagon official said Thursday.
/ Source: news services

China’s test of an anti-satellite weapon last month underscores U.S. frustration in efforts to forge reliable communications with the secretive Chinese military, a senior Pentagon official said Thursday.

On the other side of the debate, China and Russia criticized U.S. space policy and called for Washington to join negotiations over a pact to ban weapons in space.

Richard Lawless, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, said the missile launch that destroyed an aging Chinese weather satellite was a “quite unpleasant development” after years of U.S. efforts to boost dialogue with China’s military leaders.

“The fact that the ASAT [anti-satellite] test took place in the absence of a strong dialogue is all the more concerning,” he told the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a body that advises Congress on policy.

Call for information sharing
On Jan. 11, China used a ground-based ballistic missile to knock out the satellite about 537 miles (860 kilometers) above Earth, scattering dangerous debris that could damage other satellites for years.

The Pentagon’s key concern, Lawless said, was to push for greater information sharing as China applies its fast economic growth and expanding industrial and research prowess to an ”impressive full-court press” in a major military modernization.

“I can’t think of a situation in which we are more challenged in more dimensions,” he told the panel.

Despite some exchanges and U.S. efforts to draw the Chinese military into sustained strategic dialogue, “We simply do not have enough visibility into why they make the decisions they make,” said Lawless, who has been a key player in bilateral military relations.

U.S. lawmakers have reacted with alarm to the Chinese anti-satellite test and called for improved space defenses.

On Wednesday, Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, a possible Republican presidential candidate, and Rep. Terry Everett, R-Ala., wrote a letter urging President Bush urging to prepare for a “new era of military competition in space.”

“American warfighting capability relies heavily on U.S. space assets and we must take whatever steps necessary to ensure our forces cannot be targeted through an adversarial space strike,” the letter said.

Beijing calls for negotiations
In Beijing, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said China is ready to work with other countries on an agreement to prevent an arms race in space.

“Since other countries care about this question and are opposed to weaponization of space and an arms race in space, then let us join hands to realize this goal,” spokeswoman Jiang Yu said, in response to a press question about international criticism of the Jan. 11 test.

In recent years, China and Russia have called for an international space treaty but have encountered strong opposition from the United States — which says existing agreements on outer space are sufficient. Beijing and Moscow have also taken aim at Washington's recently issued national space policy, which emphasizes "freedom of action in space."

Tough talk in Moscow
Space policy came up on Thursday in Moscow as well. During his annual news conference with Russian reporters, President Vladimir Putin lashed out at U.S. plans to deploy missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic. He scoffed at Washington's claims that they would be aimed at intercepting missiles from Iran, and that the missile defense system posed no threat to Russia.

“We consider such claims unfounded, and, naturally, that directly concerns us and will cause a relevant reaction,” Putin said. “That reaction will be asymmetrical, but it will be highly efficient.”

As he has before, Putin said Russia’s latest Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missiles were capable of penetrating missile defenses and added that Moscow is developing more effective weapons against which anti-missile systems would be “helpless.”

This report includes information from Reuters and The Associated Press.