01/21/2007, 00.00
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China’s missile test: worse military threat in more than a decade

For experts, the test is worst provocation since China test-fired missiles off the coast of Taiwan more than a decade ago. Despite world-wide criticism, Beijing says it is against military competition in space, but does not provide any explanation for downing its own satellite.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China has assured other nations that they have no reason to fear for their space programmes, but declined to provide any explanations or even confirm that it downed one of its own satellites. For experts it is a serious military provocation, China’s worst in more than a decade.

"There is no need to feel threatened about this [missile test]," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said yesterday.

The United States said China had conducted the test earlier this month, firing a missile to destroy an old weather satellite more than 800 km (500 miles) above the Earth. But Mr Liu declined to say anything about the US claim, even to confirm the information, limiting himself to saying that “China opposes any form of military competition in space”.

Countries around the world have expressed their concern over the test, the first destruction of a satellite since the 1980s, when the US and Soviet Union both destroyed space hardware in orbit.

Russia's defence minister voiced doubts about the test, saying its details were unclear.

The US, Japan and South Korea have expressed concern and have called on Beijing to provide explanations.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe confirmed Tokyo’s request that Beijing offer an explanation and stressed the importance of the peaceful use of space.

Foreign Minister Taro Aso criticised Beijing for failing to give advance notice to Tokyo.

Analysts point out that Beijing did not deny the test and that its answer came many hours after the information had spread around the world eliciting requests for explanation and criticism.

The test and the lack of information are seen by many experts as China’s most provocative military action since it test-fired missiles off the coast of Taiwan more than a decade ago

Modern armed forces make extensive use of satellites for military communications, intelligence and missile guidance.

Although China’s research and development of such weapons was well known, the apparent decision to test-fire an anti-satellite weapon is seen as a clear message to the United States, the world’s leading military and space power.

And everyone agrees that this show of force is not very compatible with China’s pledge that its development was peaceful and that its requests for a peaceful use of space are genuine.

“This is the other face of China, the hard power side that they usually keep well hidden,” said Chong-Pin Lin, an expert on China’s military in Taiwan. “They talk more about peace and diplomacy, but the push to develop lethal, high-tech capabilities has not slowed down at all.”

Other experts noted that it was very likely that Washington knew about China’s military progress.

This month, Army Lieutenant General Michael Mapes testified before Congress that China and Russia were working on systems to hit American satellites with lasers or missiles. Over the summer, National Reconnaissance director Office Donald M. Kerr reported that the Chinese had used a ground-based laser to “paint,” or illuminate, an American satellite. Hence, if there was any “message”, it was directed at other powers.

For years China has pursued a policy of regional dominance, claiming to be a good partner for South-East Asian countries (at the expense of the US involved in the Mideast) and favouring ties with Russia and countries in the Caucasus.

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