Britain’s Daily Telegraph offers a breathless account of the diplomatic exchanges between the United States and China surrounding three demonstrations of anti-satellite and missile defense capabilities, two by China and one by the United States.
The incidents in question were China’s shootdown of one of its own weather satellites in January 2007, the U.S. shootdown of a wayward spy satellite 13 months later, and a Chinese exoatmospheric missile intercept in January 2010.
The Telegraph story, based in part on diplomatic cables leaked to WikiLeaks, offers little that is new in the way of facts and takes considerable license in its interpretation of the cables, particularly with respect to U.S. motivations in its satellite shootdown and in messages that were communicated to China.
“The American Government was so incensed by Chinese actions in space that it privately warned Beijing it would face military action if it did not desist,” the article states, although the cables contained only boilerplate-type language that can be seen in any national security space strategy that essentially says the United States would consider an attack on one of its satellites an act of war.
The article further implies that the U.S. satellite shootdown, billed by Pentagon officials as necessary to prevent a wayward craft laden with toxic fuel from posing a hazard to people on the ground, was in fact a response to China’s anti-satellite test a year before. While many suspect that this is in fact the case, the leaked cables say little to back the Telegraph’s case.
Nonetheless, the article makes interesting reading, if only because the leaked cables provide some insight into the interactions between U.S. and Chinese officials as these events were taking place.