WASHINGTON — In the latest volley in the ongoing debate over the meaning of China’s anti-satellite test early this year, scholars from a pair of Washington think tanks said there is no conclusive evidence that the demonstration represents a growing threat to the United States.
Speaking at a Nov. 13 event hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace here, Greg Kulacki and Jeffrey Lewis challenged assertions that the Jan. 11 test is part of a Chinese effort to counter U.S. military satellite capabilities. Kulacki, a senior analyst and China project manager in the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, and Lewis, director of the New America Foundation’s Nuclear Strategy Initiative, based their findings on discussions with Chinese technical experts.
Kulacki and Lewis dispute claims made in two recent reports that the test, in which China destroyed one of its own satellites with a ground-based missile, is part of a larger goal to defeat superior U.S. defenses that are too reliant on space-based systems. “Punching the U.S. Military’s ‘Soft Ribs’: China’s Antisatellite Weapon Test in Strategic Perspective,” is an analysis of Chinese counterspace programs since the early 1990s written by Ashley J. Tellis and published in June 2007 by the Carnegie Endowment. “The Chinese People’s Liberation Army and Space Warfare,” written by Larry Wortzel based on analysis of Chinese military literature, was published by the American Enterprise Institute in October 2007.
Kulacki and Lewis said the literature on which many of the conclusions in these reports are based is not necessarily
representative of the views of Chinese leadership. Instead, more weight should be given to responses directly from
the Chinese government, they said, citing as an example remarks by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao during a press conference shortly after the test.
China “has never participated and will never participate in any arms race in outer space,” Liu said, according to excerpts of his remarks provided to Space News by China’s state-controlled Xinhua News Agency. “This test was not directed at any country and does not pose a threat to any country.”
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in March reiterated those remarks and added the test broke no international treaties, according to The Associated Press.
Chinese literature paid close attention to what the United States and Soviet Union were doing in missile defense in the 1970s and 1980s, and now this same sort of literature is being used as evidence of a new and alarming Chinese interest in U.S. space activity, Lewis said. “They’ve been watching these programs for a long time, as you would imagine any technical community interested in keeping up with current events and developments in military technology would do,” Lewis said.
Kulacki said he was told by sources in China’s technical community that the test was merely a result of a technological maturity, a capability China has been working on for a long time. China is pursuing a comprehensive space capability that one would
any nation at China’s current stage of development with comparable
The United States and Soviet Union have worked on various anti-satellite weapon programs since the 1950s, and until this year they were the only nations known to have destroyed orbiting satellites.
“It’s something we did and it’s something they’re considering as well,” Kulacki said. “It’s not that they’ve got this narrow focus on finding some secret thing that they can bring us down with.”
Kulacki and Lewis insist there are nonetheless lessons to be drawn from the Chinese test. For one thing, they said, it exposed flaws in Beijing’s decision-making process. Chinese government officials did not anticipate the international backlash caused by the demonstration and failed to mount a coordinated or effective response, they said.
Neither Tellis nor Wortzel were asked to attend the Carnegie discussion.
Asked to comment,
Tellis said statements by China’s
leadership should be taken with a grain of salt.
“What matters most is not what the Chinese say, but what they are actually doing,” Tellis said via e-mail. “And that provides sufficient reason to give the United States pause.”
Similarly, Wortzel stood by his research, saying it contained valid citations from official publications of the People’s Liberation Army. He said any further response to the claims made by Kulacki and Lewis would require his access to their research. Wortzel also proposed the question of why neither Kulacki and Lewis nor the hosting venue sought to have himself or Tellis present to comment on the discussion.