China hears from U.S.

Second protest over satellite draws no response

January 20, 2007|By Julian E. Barnes | Julian E. Barnes,Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration publicly demanded again yesterday that China explain why it conducted a test of its growing anti-satellite capability last week, successfully destroying an obsolete orbiter. The move alarmed Western countries and their 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 own aging weather satellites about 500 miles above Earth.

The Chinese government has declined to confirm the test but has said that it supports the peaceful use of space. However, 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. While 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 on 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. The U.S. and the Soviet Union abandoned such tests because of fears about debris.

"Countries throughout the world are dependent on space-based technologies, you know, weather satellites, communication satellites and other devices to be able to conduct modern life as we know it," Casey said. "And so the consequences of any kind of activity like this are significantly greater now."

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

"There needs to be a sustained discussion between the U.S., China and other space-faring nations about how space can be used ... and the use of space for national security reasons," Swaine said.

Other experts were more skeptical of 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.

Julian E. Barnes writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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