NYT - News Analysis
A New Player at Star Wars
By JOSEPH KAHN
BEIJING, Jan. 19 — China’s apparent success in destroying one of its own orbiting satellites with a ballistic missile signals that its rising military intends to contest American supremacy in space, a realm many here consider increasingly crucial to national security.
The test of an antisatellite weapon last week, which Beijing declined to confirm or deny Friday despite widespread news coverage and diplomatic inquiries, was perceived by East Asia experts as China’s most provocative military action since it testfired missiles off the coast of Taiwan more than a decade ago. Unlike the Taiwan exercise, the main target this time was the United States, the sole superpower in space.
With lengthy white papers, energetic diplomacy and generous aid policies, Chinese officials have taken pains in recent years to present their country as a new kind of global power that, unlike the United States, had only good will toward other nations.
But some analysts say the test shows that the reality is more complex. China has surging national wealth, legitimate security concerns and an opaque military bureaucracy that may belie the government’s promise of a “peaceful rise.”
“This is the other face of China, the hard power side that they usually keep well hidden,” said Chong-Pin Lin, an expert on China’s military in Taiwan. “They talk more about peace and diplomacy, but the push to develop lethal, high-tech capabilities has not slowed down at all.”
Japan, South Korea and Australia are among the countries in the region that pressed China to explain the test, which if confirmed would make it the third power, after the United States and the Soviet Union, to shoot down an object in space.
China’s Foreign and Defense Ministries declined to comment on reports of the test, which were based on United States intelligence data. Liu Jianchao, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, would say only that China opposed using weapons in space. “China will not participate in any kind of arms race in outer space,” he told Reuters.
The silence on the test underscores how much China’s rapidly modernizing military — perhaps especially the Second Artillery forces, in charge of its ballistic missile program — remains isolated and secretive, answering only to President Hu Jintao, who heads the military as well as the ruling Communist Party.
Having a weapon that can disable or destroy satellites is considered a component of China’s unofficial doctrine ... full text