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China Tests Anti-Satellite Weapon

18 January 2007

Space experts have confirmed a report that China successfully tested a new anti-satellite weapon last week, firing the weapon to destroy one of its own old satellites. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

The report of a new Chinese space weapon first appeared in the publication Aviation Week and Space Technology. And on Tuesday the director of the private Center for Defense Information, space security expert Theresa Hitchens, said she and other specialists have been able to confirm it. "There has been some confirmation through the tracking data of the satellite that's been released by the U.S. Air Force. And there has also been tracking of the pieces of debris," she said.

Hitchens says it is difficult to know what China plans to do now that it has successfully tested the anti-satellite weapon. "You might look at this as a Chinese shot across the bow (warning shot), thinking that they would not be taken seriously until they had a hard power response," she said.

Hitchens says China might want to spark negotiations on space weapons, which the United States has resisted in recent years, or it might be trying to establish supremacy in a type of weaponry the United States has not pursued for the last 20 years, as far as is known. "It shows the urgency for the space-faring powers to come together to establish rules of behavior, and establish what is acceptable behavior in space and what is unacceptable. It seems to me that the policy of refusing to discuss these issues with China or any other nation has backfired," she said.

U.S. policy has been not to engage in negotiations on the use of space so as not to limit U.S. freedom of action in space.

The spokesman for President Bush's National Security Council, Gordon Johndroe, gave the U.S. government's official comment on the Chinese test. "The United States believes China's development and testing of such weapons is inconsistent with the spirit of cooperation that both countries aspire to in the civil space area. We and other countries have expressed our concern to the Chinese," he said.

China's successful test comes after a series of warnings by U.S. officials that China and Russia were developing space weapons.

Last October, the White House issued a new space policy that emphasized the need for freedom of action in space. The policy document does not endorse or prohibit U.S. government agencies from developing space weapons, but officials say the United States currently has no such weapons.

Hitchens says the United States launched a weapon and destroyed one of its own satellites 22 years ago, but abandoned the anti-satellite weapons program after that. She says that is a good thing. "The testing and use of weapons in space, and particularly these kinds of weapons, kinetic energy weapons, are bad for U.S. national security because they threaten our satellites," she said.

Hitchens says U.S. society relies on satellites much more than most other countries, making the United States more vulnerable to attacks on those satellites.

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