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Beijing Mum as World Expresses Concern Over Anti-Satellite Weapon Test

  • Daniel Schearf

Governments worldwide have voiced concern to China after U.S. officials confirmed that Beijing successfully tested a new anti-satellite weapon last week. China has not publicly acknowledged the test, but Japan's Foreign Ministry says it received a message from Beijing that its intentions in space are peaceful. Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing.

China's Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment Friday after the United States, Australia, Canada and Japan expressed concern about the reported test.

U.S. officials confirmed Beijing successfully tested a ground-based anti-satellite missile on January 11, destroying one of China's own aging satellites.

Analysts say the debris from the destroyed satellite could collide with and damage nearby satellites. But the bigger concern is a strategic one.

The missile struck more than 500 miles above the Earth, which puts many nations' communications and spy satellites in its range.

The test raises fears that China may have military intentions for space.

Charles Vick, a senior fellow on space and missile analysis at the security research company Global Security.org, says the launch shows the U.S. needs to pay closer attention to the military use of space.

"China is both sending a message and also giving us a warning rather like a two-by-four in the face - a very serious message that the United States was not unaware of," he said. "And it's a very serious development that has already put a lot of debris in space, that will affect a lot of satellites, that will take many decades for it to disappear."

Prior to the test, U.S. officials had expressed concern that China might be developing military space programs.

China has said it has only peaceful intentions for space, and Japan's Foreign Ministry said Friday that the Chinese government repeated that position after Tokyo expressed concerns about the test.

However, the test and the slow response from Beijing underscore Washington's concerns about China's lack of military transparency and increased defense spending.

China's official figures show it has increased its defense budget by more than 10 percent a year for nearly the last decade, but some analysts suspect real spending is much higher.

Beijing argues that its military budget is only a fraction of what developed countries spend. It says increased spending is necessary in order to raise salary levels and modernize outdated equipment.

The Chinese have sought to persuade other nations to negotiate a ban on space-based weapons. Washington has rejected such negotiations, saying there is no need for such talks, and the U.S.'s freedom of action in space could be limited. In October, President Bush announced a new space policy emphasizing freedom of action, and the U.S. determination to prevent hostilities in space.

Last week's launch, which was first reported in the U.S. magazine Aviation Week and Space Technology, is the first anti-satellite missile test by any nation in more than 20 years.

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