America threatened China over 'star wars'
Tim Ross, Holly Watt and Christopher HopeFebruary 4, 2011
THE United States threatened to take military action against China during a secret ''star wars'' arms race within the past few years, leaked documents show.
The two nuclear superpowers shot down their own satellites using missiles in separate shows of strength, the files suggest.
The US government was so incensed by Chinese actions in space that it warned Beijing it would face military action if it did not desist. However, the Chinese carried out further tests as recently as last year, leading to protests from the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.
Beijing justified its actions by accusing the Americans of developing an ''offensive'' laser weapon system that would be capable of destroying missiles before they left enemy territory.
The disclosures are contained in documents obtained by the WikiLeaks website.
The standoff began in January 2007 when China shocked the White House by shooting down one of its own weather satellites 850 kilometres 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 military and civilian satellites.
By January 2008 the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, raised the prospect of ''military'' action to protect US space systems. In a complaint to the Chinese, she said: ''Any purposeful interference with US space systems will be interpreted by the United States as an infringement of its rights and considered an escalation in a crisis or conflict. The United States reserves the right … to defend and protect its space systems with a wide range of options, from diplomatic to military.''
She also said the US had not tested an anti-satellite weapon since 1985. Just a month later this had changed. 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. The US said that the strike was not a military test but a necessary mission to remove a faulty spy satellite. The Chinese did not believe the explanation.
The Chinese strike in 2007 was highly controversial, prompting criticism from other countries and claims that it marked a revival of President Ronald Reagan's ''Star Wars'' program, abandoned in the 1980s.
For months after the US strike, the two countries engaged in tense talks over the issue.
The Chinese assistant foreign minister complained the US missile defence program was not simply defensive but also offensive because ''it includes lasers that attack a missile in launch phase over the sovereign territory of the launching country''. The most recent cable in the collection was sent from the office of Mrs Clinton in January last year.
It said US intelligence detected that China had conducted 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. ''US objections to China's direct-ascent anti-satellite testing and still valid,'' Mrs Clinton's officials wrote, ''and reflect the policy of the United States.''