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China confirms satellite test, says no threat

By Chris Buckley
Reuters
Tuesday, January 23, 2007; 2:20 PM

BEIJING (Reuters) - China said on Tuesday it had shot down one of its own satellites, confirming U.S. reports, but denied it was threatening an arms race in space.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said he knew of no plans for a second test, adding his government had briefed the United States, Japan and other countries some time after the aging weather satellite was hit on January 11.

Those countries have voiced worries about dangerous space debris and escalating military rivalry in space, but Liu said such fears were groundless.

"This test was not directed at any country and does not constitute a threat to any country," he told a regular news briefing.

"What needs to be stressed is that China has always advocated the peaceful use of space, opposes the weaponization of space and arms races in space."

Liu said he had not "heard of plans for a second test."

This was the first time that Beijing had publicly confirmed the satellite strike, revealed by U.S. officials last week.

The belated response appeared unlikely to silence complaints from other capitals that Beijing had eroded security in outer space, and its own claims to be an entirely peaceful power, by pulverizing the satellite.

The European Union said in a statement it was very concerned about the event, noting a "test of an anti-satellite weapon is inconsistent with international efforts to avert an arms race in outer space and undermines security in outer space."

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki said on Tuesday China should be more open over its plans for outer space.

"Unless there is transparency, there will be suspicions. It's not enough for China to just say there was one test," he told a news conference in Tokyo.

On Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing talked over the phone with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the Chinese ministry's Web site (www.fmprc.gov.cn) reported. It said they discussed "promoting constructive cooperative relations" but gave no details.

FIRST SINCE 1985

The United States staged the most recent previous missile strike against a satellite in September 1985.

No international treaty bans such strikes, but experts say the floating debris they leave endangers other satellites vital to commerce and security.

Beijing fears the Bush administration's plans to bolster U.S. dominance in space security could undermine its own security, analysts say. Analysts say China could use its ability to down satellites to counter any spy satellite support Washington might offer Taiwan if war were to break out between the self-ruled island and the mainland.

A Taiwan official in charge of China policy said on Tuesday that the satellite test flouted international norms and showed Beijing's space ambitions were not benign.

"It demonstrated that China has been trying to militarize the use of space and clearly it is against the international interest, not just the interest of Taiwan," Joseph Wu, chairman of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, said in a speech in Tokyo.

On Monday, a State Department spokesman said Chinese officials had acknowledged the test when they met Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill in Beijing over the weekend.

Asked about China's delay in reporting the test, Liu said: "China has nothing to hide. After various parties expressed concern, we explained this test in outer space to them."

Facing volleys of queries from reporters, Liu said he could not immediately answer questions about the dangers posed by the thousands of metal fragments released into orbit.

A senior adviser to the Pentagon's National Security Space Office, Peter Hays, told Reuters on Monday that the satellite scrap could even harm the International Space Station.

"This is a highly technical question, I can't give you an accurate answer," Liu said of the satellite fragments.

(Additional reporting by Chisa Fujioka in Tokyo and Elaine Lies in Tokyo)




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