China's anti-satellite test is 'destabilising': US official

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 February, 2007, 12:00am

The US does not know why China tested an anti-satellite weapon but believes that the test was 'destabilising,' a senior Pentagon official said yesterday.

The test 'poses dangers to human spaceflight and puts at risk the assets of all space-going nations,' said Richard Lawless, the deputy under-secretary of defence for Asian and Pacific security affairs.

'Its continued pursuit of access-denial capabilities and strategies is expanding from the traditional land, air and sea dimensions of the modern battlefield to now include outer space,' he said.

'In the face of these potentially disruptive developments the United States continues to monitor closely China's military modernisation,' Mr Lawless added.

Mr Lawless testified on Thursday morning before the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a Congressional body that advises Congress on China policy.

He declined after the hearing to respond to Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu's offer to work on an agreement to prevent an arms race in space.

China caused an international uproar with its January 11 test, in which a missile with an inert warhead destroyed one of its own defunct weather satellites.

'Since other countries care about this question and are opposed to weaponisation of space and an arms race in space, then let us join hands to realise this goal,' said Ms Jiang, when asked to respond to criticism of the test by the United States and Japan.

'This is obviously a destabilising capability,' Mr Lawless said of the test, noting that many of the US military's satellites fly in a low-earth orbit, and would thus be vulnerable to Chinese anti-satellite weaponry.

US-Chinese military co-operation continued to improve generally, Mr Lawless said.

But the US remains concerned about China's secretiveness about its military build-up, and Mr Lawless said that, because China did not explain its intentions, it made events like the anti-satellite weapon test all the more worrisome.

US National Security Council chairman Steven Hadley has said that he thought it was possible that China's President Hu Jintao did not even know about the test, but Mr Lawless said that this was unlikely.

'I find that rather far-fetched,' Mr Lawless said. 'It's hard to imagine that this was a surprise to the Chinese leadership. If it was, then we have a different problem, but I don't think it was.'

In recent years, China and Russia have called for an international space treaty but have encountered strong opposition from the US.

China insists it is committed to the peaceful use of space but Washington and Tokyo have said the test undermined efforts to keep weapons out of space.

Several countries have said they were concerned that debris created by the test could damage or interfere with the operations of other satellites in orbit.