China sees US move as step in space arms race

The decision by America to fire a missile and destroy one of its satellites has been greeted with consternation in China, where memories are fresh of the international anger at Beijing's similar action last January.

Given the outraged response of the Bush administration then, and accusations that China was playing a dangerous game, Beijing's response was fairly tame. Was it really necessary? seems to be the public line.

"The Chinese side is continuing to closely follow the US action which may influence the security of outer space and may harm other countries," was how China's Foreign Ministry put it. Technological know-how is at the heart of the row. Beijing wants Washington to reveal how it shot down the satellite because it involves technology that all countries are trying to develop. If Washington has it, then the Chinese want it too.

The US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, said the US was prepared to share with China some of the information it had gathered about the missile strike. He told reporters during a visit to Hawaii that the US is prepared to share whatever it can "appropriately" share.

The Defence Department said earlier that debris was being tracked over the Pacific and Atlantic oceans but appeared to be too small to cause damage on earth.

But this is also a chance for some payback against growing foreign influence. Chinese media, which is heavily state-influenced, gave a more indicative reading of the national mood and the overseas edition of the People's Daily ran a front-page commentary. "The US will not easily abandon its military advantage based on space technology, and it is striving to expand and fully exploit this," it said. Washington was "desperately trying to explain away" the incident, said the paper.

Weapons of mass destruction are banned from space, but Washington's plans have caused concerns about non-nuclear arms in space.

China's anti-satellite test was attacked as too risky. Its target was about 800km above earth and debris threatened satellites and orbiting space vehicles.