Satellite surprise highlights U.S.-China gap: official

Thursday, February 1, 2007; 3:12 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - China's test of an anti-satellite weapon last month underscores U.S. frustration in efforts to forge reliable communications with the secretive Chinese military, a senior Pentagon official said on Thursday.

Richard Lawless, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, said the missile launch that destroyed an aging Chinese weather satellite was a "quite unpleasant development" after years of U.S. efforts to boost dialogue with China's military leaders.

"The fact that the ASAT test took place in the absence of a strong dialogue is all the more concerning," he told the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a body that advises the U.S. Congress on policy.

On January 11, China used a ground-based ballistic missile to knock out the satellite about 537 miles above Earth, scattering dangerous debris that could damage other satellites for years.

The Pentagon's key concern, Lawless said, was to push for greater information sharing as China applies its fast economic growth and expanding industrial and research prowess to an "impressive full-court press" in a major military modernization.

"I can't think of a situation in which we are more challenged in more dimensions," he told the panel.

Despite some exchanges and U.S. efforts to draw the Chinese military into sustained strategic dialogue, "We simply do not have enough visibility into why they make the decisions they make," said Lawless, who has been a key player in bilateral military relations.

U.S. lawmakers have reacted with alarm to the Chinese antisatellite test and called for improved space defenses.

On Wednesday, Republican Congressmen Duncan Hunter of California, a possible Republican presidential candidate, and Terry Everett of Alabama wrote a letter urging President George W. Bush urging to prepare for a "new era of military competition in space."

"American warfighting capability relies heavily on U.S. space assets and we must take whatever steps necessary to ensure our forces cannot be targeted through an adversarial space strike," the letter said.

© 2007 Reuters