Sat, Jan 27, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Missile test making the world sit up and watch

By Philip Yang 楊永明

On Jan. 11, China fired a missile into space and destroyed one of its obsolete weather satellites, sparking an uproar and drawing concern from the US and other nations that the incident could be the beginning of a new space arms race between the US and China.

Beijing offered an explanation only on Tuesday, when Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao (劉建超) confirmed that a successful test of a new anti-satellite weapon had been conducted, but said China had no intention of starting a new arms race.

China's lack of transparency in the matter will only lead to a crisis of trust.

There are two objectives behind the missile test: Manifest China's dissatisfaction with the US' dominance of space arms development and its wish to deter the US-Japanese military alliance from intervening in a conflict in the Taiwan Strait.

About 850 satellites -- more than half owned by the US -- are in orbit for military and commercial purposes.

The Bush administration has ruled out a global treaty banning weapons in space, something both Russia and China have pushed for.

In addition, the Bush administration presented a new space policy in August under which Washington would develop sophisticated laser technology to knock out satellites.

China's decision to shoot down the satellite could thus be viewed as an attempt to pressure Washington to slow down its space weapons program.

The US' spy satellites are positioned at altitudes similar to that of the meteorological satellite knocked down by China, which means that China could literally target US satellites at any time.

In addition, blasting a satellite out of the heavens could also deal a blow to US-Japanese cooperation on a theater-range ballistic missile defense.

China knows that any military clash with the US is most likely to erupt over Taiwan. China conducted its test against the backdrop of political developments in Taiwan, a strengthened Taiwan-US military relationship and the 11-day joint military exercise that will be conducted this month between Japan-based US forces and Japan's Self-Defense Forces.

Facing possible US-Japanese military intervention in a cross-strait crisis, Beijing has demonstrated its deterrence capability -- including the deployment of medium-range ballistic missiles -- and the intention to deter aircraft carriers from intervening.

China's destruction of the satellite attempted to show the US military that its assistance can be impeded by severing communications. If and when a cross-strait crisis occurs, the willingness of the US to come to Taiwan's aid and the timing of such aid will be a more complicated matter than it was when the US patrolled the Taiwan Strait after China's 1996 missile tests over Taiwan.

China, however, will pay a heavy political price for its actions. First, its carefully developed image of peaceful development has been seriously questioned, and talk of the "China threat" will once again come to the fore. China remains reluctant to increase military transparency, creating suspicion about its motives; the latest test will raise further questions.

Second, the US will respond by accelerating development of anti-satellite weapons, possibly leading to a new arms race in space among powerful nations.

Also, US-Japanese military strategy will focus on East Asian military competition. While this may create a new windfall for the international arms industry, it will not build a foundation for cross-strait security and East Asian peace.

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