04/15/2009, 00.00
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Chinese satellite Earth monitoring system operational

Beijing wants to build an alternative to the GPS system controlled by the United States. With the satellite launched today, it can already monitor China and the surrounding region, but plans to launch about 30 more satellites. Controversy over the possible "espionage" uses or political purposes of the systems.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - There is a second Chinese satellite now in orbit, part of a plan to create an alternative network to the Global Positioning System (GPS), based on United States satellites. Many are wondering whether the purposes, in addition to commercial and political applications, are also of a military nature, out of the fear that Washington is using the GPS system for espionage.

China intends to create a space monitoring system called "Beidou." It is not clear how far along China is in the project: the United States says that Beijing has already launched at least five satellites, but Xinhua says that the one launched today - shortly after midnight, from the Xichang space pad in southwest Sichuan, with a Long March 3C rocket - is only the second, and that its current monitoring system will cover only China and the surrounding region. The first satellite was launched about two years ago, and official sources say that more than 30 satellites will be put into orbit to complete the network by 2015, 10 of them being launched by 2010.

Beijing also participates in the satellite systems of other nations. It has made significant investment in the satellite navigation system Galileo, of the European Union (investing more than 200 million euros in 2003), which is also a competitor to GPS, and is negotiating participation in the Russian system Glonass.

Andrei Chang, editor-in-chief of the Canada-based Kanwa Defence Review, comments that this system will also give China "more reliable and effective navigation and positioning of [military] force deployment. The Chinese military, especially its precision-guided weapons, will benefit."

Official Chinese sources reject this interpretation, and reiterate that the monitoring network is meant only to free China from dependence on foreign systems, and has exclusively economic purposes, for telecommunications and for security. Many countries, including China, have instead accused the United States of using the GPS system for its own purposes, disseminating false information according to directives from Washington. Various sources say that the GPS system was disabled during the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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