Thoughts on the Chinese Anti-Satellite Test

asatdebrisfield.gifThe graphic at left is a map of the debris field left by the destruction of a Chinese satellite in an apparent test of anti-satellite weaponry by the Chinese last week (hat tip: MIT’s Geoff Forden via ArmsControlWonk). The debris will be up there, essentially, forever, threatening other satellites and other space traffic. If you haven’t been following this story, ArmsControlWonk has been doing yeoman’s service in doing so. Just keep scrolling.

I found this story on the subject interesting today:

Bush administration officials said that they had been unable to get even the most basic diplomatic response from China after their detection of a successful test to destroy a satellite 10 days ago, and that they were uncertain whether China’s top leaders, including President Hu Jintao, were fully aware of the test or the reaction it would engender.

In interviews over the past two days, American officials with access to the intelligence on the test said the United States kept mum about it in hopes that China would come forth with an explanation.

It was more than a week before the intelligence leaked out: a Chinese missile had been launched and an aging weather satellite in its path, more than 500 miles above the earth, had been reduced to rubble. But protests filed by the United States, Japan, Canada and Australia, among others, were met with silence — and quizzical looks from officials in The Chinese Foreign Ministry, who seemed to be caught unaware.

The mysteries surrounding China’s silence are reminiscent of the cold war, when every case of muscle-flexing by competing powers was examined for evidence of a deeper agenda.

The American officials presume that Mr. Hu was generally aware of the missile testing program, but speculate that he may not have known the timing of the test. China’s continuing silence would appear to suggest, at a minimum, that Mr. Hu did not anticipate a strong international reaction, either because he had not fully prepared for the possibility that the test would succeed, or because he did not foresee that American intelligence on it would be shared with allies, or leaked.

In an interview late Friday, Stephen J. Hadley, President Bush’s national security adviser, raised the possibility that China’s leaders might not have fully known what their military was doing.

I think there’s been quite a bit of overblown commentary about the threat suggested by this action. Destroying the satellite was clearly within China’s rights but was IMO rather imprudent and definitely impolite. If the Chinese were to destroy a U. S. satellite without provocation, it would be an overt, obvious act of war. Satellites might be the least of China’s worries at that point.

Still, the autonomy on the part of the PLA suggested by the article above is uncomfortably reminiscent of the Japanese military between the wars.


Winds of Change has an interesting report on Indian reaction to the test.

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Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.


  1. madmatt says:

    And let us not forget they have us by the ball financially, so we can’t pursue talks aggressively without fear of an economic meltdown.

  2. DC Loser says:

    James, I would suggest the NY Times article, as well as the original leak of the test to Aviation Week, as the unofficial US response to the test. We have demarched the Chinese on the test, and they probably have responded in a vague manner, most probably reiterating their position regarding a ban on space weapons. The NY Times article suggesting a clueless Chinese leadership is just laughable. The Second Artillery will not conduct such a provocative test without Central Military Commission approval. China has sent us a message and we are not yet ready to give them the response they want. I don’t know what we really expect them to say at this point. Any strategic thinker worth his salt knows what the game is, so why are we putting out trash like this for a response?

  3. floyd says:

    whoops!! we better start polishing up those stone axes!!