Has China Launched an Arms Race in Space?

China's decision to conduct its first test of an anti-satellite weapon represents a sharp escalation in the hitherto low-key dispute between China, Russia, and the United States over the use of outer space for military purposes. The test, which occurred Jan. 12 (Beijing time), represents the first anti-satellite attack by any country in over two decades. It also marks the first use of a ground-based missile to destroy an orbiting satellite.

On Jan. 18, the Bush administration confirmed media reports that China had used a kinetic kill vehicle (i.e., one which attacks targets by colliding with them rather than exploding in their vicinity) carried aboard a ballistic missile to destroy one of its older weather satellites. The administration apparently waited a week to assess the test and to request information from Chinese officials about their intent.

After Chinese government representatives declined to discuss the test, U.S. officials issued a circumscribed public response. National Security spokesperson Gordon Johndroe lamented: "The United States believes China's development and testing of such weapons is inconsistent with the spirit of cooperation that both countries aspire to in the civil space area." On Jan. 23, 2007, the Chinese government finally confirmed the test.

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