India's conduct of an anti-satellite (ASAT) test on 27 March showed that Delhi is taking seriously neighbouring China's own space capabilities. While India was preening itself over its technological prowess, the fact is that India is at least twelve years behind China in this "space race", and that gulf is only going to widen given the vast resources China is pouring in.Indeed, China performed its own direct-ascent ASAT test against a weather satellite in January 2007, employing an SC-19 interceptor. However, that mission resulted in a large and hazardous field of space debris that drew the ire of the world.Even China's so-called civil space program, which has put a research lab in space and plans to put a man on the moon, is subservient to the military. The People's Liberation Army (PLA) is undoubtedly using the manned space program for military purposes. For instance, all Shenzhou space capsule missiles carried military payloads or performed military missions.An example is Shenzhou-7, which intercepted the International Space Station and launched a microsatellite simulating a combat payload. Under the guise of a civil program, the PLA has seized the opportunity to duplicitously gain technologies from foreign civil space agencies.Last year, China completed 36 space launches from its two major launch centers of Jiuquan in Inner Mongolia, and Xichang in Sichuan Province. Of course, Beijing's bold space program reflects national pride and the authorities' attempt to create the veneer of China being a global power. China has more than 120 military satellites in orbit, including a test quantum communications satellite that offers highly secure data transfer.China's military space programs But how are we to assess the state of China's military space capabilities? The USA keeps a close eye on Chinese developments, and some of the most authoritative assessments come from the annual report to Congress entitled "Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China".The most recent report, issued last year, summarized
Beijing stated in its 2015 White Paper: "China has all along advocated the peaceful use of outer space, opposed the weaponization of and arms race in outer space, and taken an active part in international space cooperation. China will keep abreast of the dynamics of outer space, deal with security threats and challenges in that domain, and secure its space assets to serve its national economic and social development, and maintain outer space security."Yet hypocrisy abounds. China warmly applauds the non-weaponization of space in venues like the United Nations, and it uses "lawfare" to hide its own offensive developments in space.Statements such as the PLA spokesman's response to India's ASAT test, "We hope all countries can take real actions to protect lasting peace and stability in the outer space," are therefore mere empty rhetoric.Yet there is also a double-edged sword for China. As the PLA itself becomes more reliant on satellites, it becomes more vulnerable to American - and now Indian - ASAT interceptors.India has just demonstrated to Beijing that it can create a viable force multiplier that places Chinese satellites at risk, despite the fact that this capability will remain nascent for the foreseeable future. No wonder, then, that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was pleased with India's first ASAT missile test.
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