WASHINGTON — The United States says China conducted a “non-destructive” test of an anti-satellite weapon July 23 and called for China to end the development of such capabilities.
Geng Shuang, a spokesman for the Chinese embassy here, chafed at that assessment, saying the test was of a land-based missile interceptor. In an email to SpaceNews July 31, he said that “to associate it with an anti-satellite test is entirely groundless.”
A State Department spokesman said the United States has “a high confidence” that the test was of an anti-satellite missile.
“We call on China to refrain from destabilizing actions — such as the continued development and testing of destructive anti-satellite systems — that threaten the long term security and sustainability of the outer space environment, on which all nations depend,” the State Department official said in a July 25 email to SpaceNews. “The United States continuously looks to ensure its space systems are safe and resilient against emerging space threats.”
China’s state-run news agency, Xinhua, reported July 24 that the military had announced a successful missile intercept test. The test “achieved the preset goal,” China’s Ministry of National Defense said on its website, according to Xinhua.
Shuang said China maintains a policy of using space for peaceful purposes. He said the test was “defensive in nature and does not target any country.”
“The U.S. and some other countries have conducted similar anti-missile tests,” he noted. “We hope parties concerned will view this test in an objective way.”
In January 2007, China deliberately destroyed one of its defunct weather satellites known as Fengyun-1C using a ground-based, medium-range ballistic missile. The action, which was widely condemned internationally, left a cloud of potentially hazardous debris in a heavily used belt of Earth orbit.
Brian Weeden, technical adviser for the Secure World Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to space sustainability, said in a paper earlier this year that the May 2013 launch of a Chinese rocket on what Beijing described as a scientific mission also may have been a test of an anti-satellite system.
Dean Cheng, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a think tank here, said the test could have focused on timing capabilities — placing a missile at an exact location at a precise time — and count as a successful intercept without destroying an object.
Cheng was skeptical of China’s explanation of the test, noting that many of China’s neighbors do not have tactical missiles. Cheng said an anti-satellite test is consistent with China’s long-term strategy, which recognizes the importance of space dominance in the future.
In recent months, senior U.S. defense and intelligence officials have warned of growing threats to U.S. space assets.