Chinese Anti-Satellite Missile Draws Rebuke

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The U.S. and several other countries are criticizing China for testing an anti-satellite weapon. A week ago, a ground-based Chinese ballistic missile destroyed an aging Chinese weather satellite.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne.

The United States has joined several other countries in criticizing China's recent test of an anti-satellite missile. The missile destroyed an aging Chinese weather satellite. The test has rekindled fears of an arms race in space.

NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Beijing.

ANTHONY KUHN: The first report of the test appeared on the Web site of Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine. It says that China launched a ballistic missile from its Xichang Space Center in Sichuan Province on January 11. The missile hit an aging weather satellite in orbit about 530 miles above the earth. The Chinese government has not yet confirmed or commented on the reports.

Shuen Hung is an international relations expert at People's University in Beijing. He says that satellite-killing technology would be a logical development in China's efforts to improve its missiles and information warfare capabilities.

Mr. SHUEN HUNG (People's University, Beijing): (Speaking Chinese)

KUHN: Space isn't for the U.S. to monopolize, he says, and not all of America's space programs are peaceful in nature. If China is to modernize its military, then like Russia it's bound to develop in this direction. If confirmed, the test would be the first of its kind in two decades.

In Washington yesterday, National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said the reported test was inconsistent with the spirit of cooperation that both countries aspired to in the civil space area. The governments of Japan and Australia have summoned Chinese diplomats to explain the reported test.

In New York, Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer expressed his country's concerns.

Mr. ALEXANDER DOWNER (Foreign Minister, Australia): The danger there is that you get into a situation where other countries, including the U.S., I suppose, perhaps start to look for ways of protecting satellites in space.

KUHN: In recent years, China has launched several weather and communication satellites. It successfully completed two manned space missions and announced plans for a moon landing by 2010. China's space program is under the aegis of its military, but Beijing has repeatedly said it has no intention of getting into an arms race in space.

Xu Guangyu is a director of the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association.

Mr. XU GUANGYU (China Arms Control and Disarmament Association): (Through translator) We actively advocate demilitarization of space, and we hope that within the framework of the United Nations, we can sign an agreement preventing or limiting any arms race in space.

KUHN: The U.S. has had anti-satellite weapons for some two decades. And the Bush administration has expressed renewed interest in so-called Star Wars space-based weapon systems. President Bush unveiled a new space policy in October that asserts the U.S. right to deny other countries access to space for what it considers hostile purposes.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.

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