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China missile raises ‘Star Wars’ spectre

Tokyo, Jan. 19 (Reuters): The prospect of “Star Wars” between China and the West loomed last night after Beijing used a ballistic missile to destroy a satellite in space.

Using a ground-based medium-range ballistic missile, the test knocked out an ageing Chinese weather satellite about 865 km above the earth on January 11 through “kinetic impact,” or by slamming into it, the US National Security Council said.

The last US anti-satellite test took place on September 13, 1985. Washington then halted such Cold War-era testing, concerned by debris that could harm civilian and military satellite operations.

“We have concerns about the impact of debris in space and we’ve expressed that concern,” British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s spokesman said, adding that discussions took place at the level of officials rather than ministers.

He said Britain did not believe the test contravened international law, but was concerned by the lack of consultation. The test was “inconsistent with the spirit of China’s statement to the UN and other bodies on the military use of space,” Blair;s spokesman added. The US, Australia and Canada have already conveyed their concerns over the missile test to Beijing.

However, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman refused to confirm or deny the incident, but said Beijing wanted no arms race in space.

“I can’t say anything about the reports. I really don’t know; I’ve only seen the foreign reports,” Liu Jianchao said. “What I can say is that, as a matter of principle, China advocates the peaceful use of space and opposes the weaponisation of space, and also opposes any form of arms race,” he said.

Japan, which has been patching up relations with China damaged by disputes over wartime history, has long been concerned about its giant neighbour’s rising military strength and has called for more transparency from China on defence spending. Last March, China announced a 14.7 per cent rise in spending on defence to $35.3 billion.

Tokyo has asked the Chinese government for confirmation that the satellite-killing missile test took place and for an explanation of what China’s intentions were, Shiozaki said. “When we passed on the message, the Chinese side said they would take Japan’s concerns into account and that they want to maintain the peaceful use of space,” a Japanese foreign ministry official said.

According to David Wright of the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Union of Concerned Scientists, the satellite pulverised by China could have broken into nearly 40,000 fragments from 1 cm to 10 cm, roughly half of which would stay in orbit for more than a decade. The US has been researching satellite-killers of its own, experimenting with lasers on the ground that could disable, disrupt and destroy spacecraft.

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