CHINA:The Chinese government has confirmed that it shot down one of its own satellites last week, an action that heightened tensions in Asia where nerves are still rattled by North Korea's nuclear test late last year.
Beijing insisted it had briefed the US and Japan before it fired a ground-based ballistic missile into an ageing weather satellite 850km above the earth on January 11th.
It was the first confirmation by Beijing that it had made the satellite strike, which was revealed to the world by officials in Washington last week. The test was criticised by the US, Japan, Canada and Australia and had governments in Asia fearful that China was flexing its military muscle.
Some governments said the launch contradicted China's claims that its rise was a peaceful one. They also said space was a less safe place since the test left thousands of pieces of potentially dangerous space debris floating through the earth's lower orbit.
Foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said he was not aware of any plans for a second satellite-killing test and said Beijing had kept other governments informed of its plans. Any fears of an arms race in space were groundless, said Mr Liu.
"This test was not directed at any country and does not constitute a threat to any country. What needs to be stressed is that China has always advocated the peaceful use of space, opposes the weaponisation of space and arms races in space," he said.
Missile launches are an extremely sensitive topic in Asia since North Korea tested its first nuclear weapons, and that country's subsequent stubborn refusal to abandon its nuclear ambitions has kept Asian nerves on edge.
Asked why China had waited for so long to report the test, Mr Liu said: "China has nothing to hide. After various parties expressed concern, we explained this test in outer space to them."
Beijing is keen to match its growing economic strength with political and diplomatic influence in the Asian region, but regularly emphasises that the country is undergoing a "peaceful rise". China's defence budget has been increasing by double-digit percentages for several years, stepping up fear in self-ruled Taiwan, which Beijing sees as a renegade province that it will invade if it ever tries to declare independence from the mainland.
Analysts say that by blowing up a satellite, China may be demonstrating that it is capable of taking out spy satellites should the US follow up on its pledge to assist Taiwan in the event of a military escalation across the straits.
Joseph Wu, chairman of Taiwan's mainland affairs council, said in Tokyo that the test showed China was seeking to "militarise the use of space". Its growing defence capabilities have also irked Japan, still Asia's economic powerhouse and the dominant political strength in the region.
Japanese chief cabinet secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki called on China to clarify its ambitions in outer space.
"Unless there is transparency, there will be suspicions. It's not enough for China to just say there was one test," he said in Tokyo.
On Monday the state department said Chinese officials had acknowledged the test during a meeting with assistant secretary of state Christopher Hill, who is Washington's chief negotiator in nuclear talks with North Korea, in Beijing over the weekend.
The last missile strike against a satellite took place in September 1985, when the US blew up an orbiting satellite.