South Korea’s foreign ministry headquarters in Seoul. Credit: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea “welcomed” America’s self-imposed ban on direct-ascent anti-satellite (ASAT) missile tests that create orbital debris. 

“The government [of the Republic of Korea] welcomes the United States’ April 18 announcement of its commitment to banning direct-ascent anti-satellite (ASAT) missile tests,” said foreign ministry spokesman Choi Young-sam in an April 21 press briefing. “In addition to this, the government, as an advocate of creating a UN resolution on responsible behavior in space, will continue to play a role in advancing rules that will ensure peaceful and sustainable use of outer space.”

In a May 3, 2021, statement to the United Nations’ Office of Disarmament Affairs, South Korea called on space actors to “behave transparently and responsibly” since verifying intention in space is difficult and challenging without official declarations from a space object’s operator.

When Russia destroyed a Soviet-era satellite in an ASAT test in November, South Korea expressed concern over new debris created in low Earth orbit as the test’s result—though it stopped short of criticizing Russia. 

Meanwhile, China expressed skepticism about the self-imposed moratorium. China’s foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin noted in an April 19 press conference that the U.S. was the first country to carry out direct-ascent anti-satellite missile testing in 1959 and “has so far conducted the largest number of such testing.”

“Now, the U.S. announced that it would bar tests of ground-based direct-ascent anti-satellite weapons. But why not announce that it will not use such weapons? Why not announce to stop testing air-based, co-orbital and other types of anti-satellite weapons, and stop anti-missile testing of anti-satellite nature? Why not commit itself to banning the use of force against outer space objects?” the spokesman said. He fueled the skepticism with Washington’s refusal to discuss an arms control initiative for space, which China and Russia co-launched in 2008.

“We [China] hope the U.S. will truly assume its due responsibility as a major country, fully reflect upon its negative moves in the field of outer space, stop the hypocritical practice of expanding unilateral military superiority in the name of arms control,” said the spokesman.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergey Ryabkov welcomed the moratorium in an April 19 interview, calling the decision “a step in the right direction.” And he called on the U.S. to come forward to discuss the 2008 arms control initiative.

“I would like to remind you of Russia’s proposal, together with China, to develop a treaty on not being the first to place weapons in outer space,” Ryabkov said, adding that Moscow calls on Washington to return to constructive negotiations on this issue.

Park Si-soo covers space industries in South Korea, Japan and other Asian countries. Park worked at The Korea Times — South Korea's leading English language newspaper — from 2007 to 2020. He earned a master’s degree in science journalism from Korea...