Space is playing an increasing role in security talks between the United States and China, although no formal dialogue dedicated to space security has begun, a senior US State Department official said on Thursday.
“Over the past year or so, space has been included in an increasing way and we hope to continue those discussions on space security,” Frank Rose, deputy assistant secretary of state for space and defence policy, told Reuters after a speech at a space industry conference in Colorado Springs.
The United States remains concerned about China’s development of anti-satellite capabilities after it shot a missile at one of its own defunct satellite on orbit in 2007, creating an enormous amount of debris in space, Rose said.
“The United States continues to have concerns about the development of China’s anti-satellite program but we also want to engage them and talk about it,” Rose said. “It’s in no one’s interest to have long-lived debris in outer space.”
Washington is keeping a watchful eye on China’s activities in space after an intelligence report last year raised concerns about China’s expanding ability to disrupt the most sensitive US military and intelligence satellites.
Sources familiar with the report said it contained credible information about China’s ability to potentially damage US satellites in higher orbits using its own satellites, missiles or ground-based jamming techniques. It has already conducted several anti-satellite tests in lower orbits.
Rose said debris created by China’s January 2007 test had come close to Chinese satellites in orbit hundreds of times over the past six years, prompting the US government to warn Beijing about possible collisions.
“We both have a long-term interest in maintaining the long-term sustainability of the space environment,” he said.
The United States has formal space security dialogues with Russia and other countries, and eventually hoped to set up a similar regular exchange with China, Rose said.
“Longer-term that’s where the United States would like to do ... but we’re not there yet,” Rose said, although he said China appeared more willing to engage on such issues.
In his speech, Rose said talks with China were taking place both on a bilateral basis and in multilateral forums such as the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.
Even during the Cold War, the United States and Soviet Union maintained open channels of communication about space issues, he said. “It is important to have that dialogue to prevent miscalculations and misperceptions.”
A number of US military officials underscored the need for increased surveillance of satellites and other objects in space at the conference hosted by the Space Foundation this week.
They cited dangers posed by increased debris as well as possible hostile acts by enemy nations.