U.S. presses China on anti-satellite test

Times Staff Writer

The Bush administration demanded again Friday that China explain why it conducted a test of its growing anti-satellite capability last week, successfully destroying an obsolete orbiter in a move that alarmed many U.S. allies and brought diplomatic protests.

The United States, Canada, Australia and Japan have questioned China’s motives in launching a ground-based missile that destroyed one of its aging weather satellites about 500 miles above Earth.

Beijing has declined to confirm the test but has said it supports the peaceful use of space. U.S. officials said no country should conduct tests that advance the potential for wars in space or result in explosions that create large areas of debris hazardous to other satellites.

“We know the Chinese have conducted this test,” said Tom Casey, a State Department spokesman. “We certainly want to hear from them in a more detailed way exactly what their intentions are.... We don’t want to see a situation where there is any militarization of space.”


U.S. officials are seeking talks with their Chinese counterparts. Though some experts are calling for an expanded dialogue, more hawkish observers say the U.S. needs to take a tougher line.

State Department officials met with officials from the Chinese Embassy on Tuesday, and diplomats in Beijing met with Chinese officials Wednesday. Casey said one of the questions the test raised was whether this was a one-time incident or part of a broader initiative.

The U.S. has conducted similar tests to shoot down satellites, but the last was in 1985. America and the Soviet Union abandoned the tests over concerns about the debris they generated.

“Countries throughout the world are dependent on space-based technologies -- you know, weather satellites, communication satellites and other devices,” Casey said.


The Chinese missile test was unsurprising given the U.S. position on the militarization of space and this country’s military capabilities, said Michael Swaine, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

“There needs to be a sustained discussion between the U.S., China and other space-faring nations about how space can be used,” Swaine said.

Other experts were skeptical about how much a dialogue with China would yield.

“Talking is swell, but don’t expect to get anything from it,” said James Andrew Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.


Other skeptics, such as John J. Tkacik Jr. of the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center, have argued that China has rebuffed U.S. attempts to negotiate over space. The U.S., Tkacik said, should tell China there will be consequences for missile launches. The leverage America has, he said, is bilateral trade.