US alarmed by Chinese 'missile strike' on satellite

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The Independent Online

China faced a barrage of international criticism after Washington accused it of destroying an old weather satellite with a medium-range missile, amid concerns about the militarisation of space.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry neither confirmed nor denied yesterday that the anti-satellite test had been conducted on 11 January. It was the first such reported strike since 1985 when Washington knocked out a satellite before halting testing over fears that space debris could hit other orbiting devices.

Australia and Japan demanded an explanation while the US and Britain informed the Chinese government of their concern over reports of the test, which was not outlawed by international law.

But Tony Blair's spokesman said such a test was "inconsistent with the spirit of China's statement to the UN and other bodies on the military use of space".

Russia was sceptical about the veracity of the claims, first reported by Aviation Week. "I'm afraid that it didn't have an anti-satellite basis. And, maybe, it's good that it didn't," Russia's Defence Minister, Sergei Ivanov, said. The US Defence Department did not comment.

China was known to have the technology for such a test. "A lot of thought has gone into this. It's a logical step for the Chinese," said Adam Ward, the executive director of the Washington office of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. He said the US could be worried that China was developing anti-satellite weapons to weaken surveillance by the Americans in case of US intervention over Taiwan.

However, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Liu Jianchao, said: "China will not participate in any kind of arms race in outer space."

The Pentagon has highlighted the threat to the US from China's space-based military operations in recent years, prompting a debate as to whether to engage in dialogue with Beijing. However, Mr Ward said Washington, which has the capability to shoot down Chinese satellites, has itself refused to submit to legal constraints on such matters .

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