China Downplays Talk of Space-Weapon Race

Nearly two weeks after using a ballistic missile to destroy one of its own aging satellites, China confirms for the first time that the test occurred. The foreign ministry provided few details, but it said that China does not want to participate in a space race.

China confirmed reports that it destroyed an aging weather satellite, which had been in orbit more than 500 miles above the Earth. But China's explanations have left many people wondering why it conducted the test.

For five days after the test was first reported in the United States, China remained silent. At a regular press briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao acknowledged the test, but he downplayed its significance.

"This test was not aimed at any country, and does not constitute a threat towards any country," Liu said. "But since everybody was so concerned, we informed the interested parties about the test."

Liu said that China had informed Washington and Tokyo after the fact. He added that, despite the test, China remains firmly opposed to putting weapons in space.

But some analysts believe that, despite what it says, China is using the missile test to send a message. The message might be that if China has the capability to knock out U.S. military satellites, the United States should think twice about intervening in a potential conflict between mainland China and Taiwan.

Besides the missile launch itself, observers remain baffled about why it took so long for China to explain its actions. To some, it suggested a disconnect between the government's civilian and military branches, as well as between Beijing and foreign governments.

Chinese citizens may be feeling in the dark, as well. In reporting the foreign ministry's latest comments, Chinese media only mentioned a space experiment — not the anti-satellite missile test itself.

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