In A Fortnight

Publication: China Brief Volume: 7 Issue: 3


Following the revelation of China’s anti-satellite (ASAT) missile test conducted on January 11, reactions by leading government officials and media outlets throughout Asia have been mixed. The strongest criticism of the test came from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who characterized it as a violation of international law. In his remarks to the Diet, Abe stated that the test “would not be in compliance with basic international rules such as the Outer Space Treaty,” to which Beijing is a signatory (AFP, January 31). Only a few days prior to Abe’s comments, two of Japan’s major newspapers, Mainichi Shimbun and Sankei Shimbun, published editorials urging Beijing to conform its actions to its rhetoric of a “peaceful use of outer space.” Both papers also voiced concerns over whether China’s ASAT capabilities could jeopardize any missile defense system jointly developed by the United States and Japan, given that such a system would rely heavily upon surveillance satellites (Mainichi Shimbun, January 28; Sankei Shimbun, January 25).

India’s Space Research Organization chairman Madhavan Nair also criticized China’s test saying, “[China] should not have done this as it goes against international convention” (The Asian Age, February 6). Nair emphasized that India likewise possessed the capability to conduct an ASAT test, but would refrain from doing so because New Delhi remained committed to the peaceful use of outer space. A number of Indian defense officials led by Air Chief Marshal S. P. Tyagi, however, viewed the test with alarm and in its wake, revived a previous proposal to create an aerospace command that would be tasked with the responsibility of overseeing developments in space warfare (The Telegraph [India], February 4). While External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee agreed that an aerospace command should certainly be considered in light of the test, he emphasized India’s commitment to the international space regime and Delhi’s interest to “preserve outer space as a sanctuary from weapons.”

Russia’s reactions, however, contrasted sharply from India’s and Japan’s. Two days after the January 17 test had been revealed by the United States, Russian Vice-Premier and Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov stated that such a test was impossible for China since they did not possess the capabilities to conduct it. Former commander of the anti-missile and anti-space defenses Colonel-General Volter Krasovskiy, however, criticized Ivanov’s comments as evidence of either the defense minister’s “incompetence” or the poor state of Russian intelligence capabilities (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, February 1). Once the ASAT test had been confirmed by the Chinese themselves, however, Ivanov sought to backtrack on his earlier comments by toning down the provocative nature of the test, which he described as being “of a rather artificial nature.” Instead, he pointed to the actions of the United States in the 1980s as the impetus behind China’s actions and stated that if anyone is responsible for the test, it should be Washington (ITAR-Tass, February 6).


In the first such incident in over a year, on February 4, a Japanese Coast Guard patrol ship detected a Chinese vessel conducting surveillance some 20 miles off the Uotsuri Island, the main island of the disputed Senkaku Islands, known to the Chinese as Diaoyutai. When the patrol ship ordered the vessel to leave Japan’s exclusive economic zone, the ship ignored the order and continued about its activities (AFP, February 4). According to experts familiar with the Chinese leadership, the hiatus in maritime activities in the East China Sea during the past year was largely due to the efforts of a group of President Hu Jintao’s associates who favored engagement with Japan (Sankei Shimbun, February 6). Yet, the resumption of Chinese naval activities in the East China Sea following just weeks after China’s ASAT test may indicate that either Beijing or a faction within the Politburo has implemented a more confident and even confrontational regional strategy. In previous years, Chinese research vessels were constantly spotted around the Senkaku Islands conducting surveillance and tests of the oil- and gas-rich seabed. While much of the data from the seabed surveys are likely intended for China’s state-owned oil majors, U.S. and Japanese experts believe that the data from the topographical surveys are being used by the Chinese Navy to create underwater maps for submarine operations.