January 22, 2007 | Commentary on Asia
After several attempts, the People's Republic of China has successfully tested an anti-satellite weapon. The kinetic-energy "kill vehicle" destroyed its target - one of Beijing's own aging weather satellites - orbiting over 500 miles above Earth.
This is bad news. For starters, it calls into question China's mantra that its unprecedented military buildup is for self-defense, that its rise to world power will be peaceful. It's a threat to no one - and it will only use space for peaceful purposes.
Not surprisingly, after the Jan. 11 test was confirmed late last week, the United States, Japan, Britain, Canada and Australia all condemned the Chinese anti-satellite (ASAT) missile launch.
A White House National Security Council spokesman said last Thursday: "The U.S. 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 arena."
So why is the Chinese KT-2 "satellite-killer" launch - the first ASAT test since America and the Soviet Union conducted tests in the 1980s - causing so much "final frontier" heartburn? Well, for a lot of good reasons - at least from an American perspective:
Adding to the consternation has been China's silence - even denias - about the launch. Beijing's lack of transparency about its space programs, especially since it's run by the military, has led some to express concerns about an impending Star Wars-like arms race.
The problem is only exacerbated by recent reports that Russia will cooperate with the Chinese space program. Moscow says it won't transfer sensitive technology, but its record of advanced-weapons sales to China isn't comforting.
So why did China launch the ASAT now? No real telling. Could be a little provocative chestbeating. Or a gambit by Beijing to get Washington to enter negotiations on a ban on weaponizing space.
Facing this new challenge, America should continue to deflect regular Chinese advances for cooperation with NASA. Nearly all space technology can be applied to both civilian and military purposes.
And the FBI should redouble its counterintelligence efforts against Chinese spies that may be targeting U.S. space-related high-tech efforts in government, industry and universities.
Beijingis serious about space. It put taikonauts (Chinese astronauts) in space in 2003 and 2005, expects to launch 100 civilian/military-use satellites in the next five to eight years, and plans to put a man on the moon by 2010 and a moon rover over there by 2012.
The PRC also understands U.S. military dependence on our space infrastructure. Without spy and communications satellites, our forces would be left essentially deaf, dumb and blind - on a suddenly level battlefield with a (previously) less capable adversary, a shrewd example of the promise of asymmetric warfare.
Bottom line: China is on a trajectory to challenge Washington (and Moscow) for preeminence in space. The ASAT test is a wake-up call. Protecting our space assets - and freedom of action on the high frontier - must be central to our national security strategy.
Peter Brookes is a columnist forThe New York Post, a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and author of "A Devil's Triangle: Terrorism, WMD and Rogue States."
First appeared in the New York Post