China, US came close to war in ‘star wars’ arms race
Published 03/02/2011 | 08:42
THE United States threatened to take military action against China during a secret ‘star wars’ arms race within the past few years, according to leaked documents.
The two nuclear superpowers both shot down their own satellites using sophisticated missiles in separate shows of strength, the files suggest.
The US 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 Chinese carried out further tests as recently as last year, however, leading to protests from Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, secret documents show.
Beijing justified its actions by accusing the US of developing an “offensive” laser weapon system that would have the capability of destroying missiles before they left enemy territory.
The disclosures are contained in the latest documents obtained by the WikiLeaks website.
The ‘star wars’ arms race began in January 2007 when China shocked the White House by shooting down one of its own weather satellites 853km above the Earth.
The strike, which resulted in thousands of pieces of debris orbiting the earth, raised fears that the Chinese had the power to cause chaos by destroying US satellites.
In February 2008, the US launched its own “test” strike to destroy a malfunctioning US satellite, which demonstrated to the Chinese that it also had the capability to strike in space.
America stated at the time that the strike was not a military test, but a necessary mission to remove a faulty spy satellite.
The leaked documents appear to show its true intentions. One month before the strike, the US criticised Beijing for launching its own “anti-satellite test”, noting: “The United States has not conducted an anti-satellite test since 1985.” In a formal diplomatic protest, officials working for Condoleezza Rice, the then secretary of state, told Beijing: “A Chinese attack on a satellite using a weapon launched by a ballistic missile threatens to destroy space systems that the United States and other nations use for commerce and national security. Destroying satellites endangers people.”
The warning continued: “The United States reserves the right, consistent with the UN Charter and international law, to defend and protect its space systems with a wide range of options, from diplomatic to military.”
The Chinese strike in 2007 was highly controversial, prompting criticism from other nations and claims that it marked a revival of President Reagan's ‘Star Wars’ programme, that was abandoned in the 1980s.
In secret dispatches, US officials indicated that their strike was, in fact, military in nature.
Immediately after the US Navy missile destroyed the satellite, the American Embassy in China received “direct confirmation of the results of the antisatellite test” from the US military command in the Pacific, according to a secret memo. Concerned
The strike marked the high point of tensions between Washington and Beijing over the issue of ballistic missile defence. The cables show that China was deeply concerned about America's plans to place missile defence radars in Japan. Another document discloses that the US was allegedly developing an “airborne laser system” to counter the threat from “Chinese military build up”.
The Chinese government was said to be “angry” about the US satellite exercise.
The most recent cable in the collection was sent from the office of Mrs Clinton in January 2010.
It claimed that US intelligence detected that China had launched a fresh anti-satellite missile test.
Crucially, Washington wanted to keep secret its knowledge that the missile test was linked to China's previous space strikes.
The cable, marked “secret” said the Chinese army had sent an SC-19 missile that successfully destroyed a CSS-X-11 missile about 240km above the Earth.
Mrs Clinton's cable stressed that “the Obama administration” retained the Bush-era concerns over Chinese space weapon plans.