US, Chinese Military Commanders Disagree on Significance of Provocative Anti-Satellite Test
Senior US and Chinese military commanders sharply disagreed Friday on the impact of China’s provocative anti-satellite weapon test in January. The exchange came during a meeting in Beijing between the commander of US forces in the Pacific and the vice chairman of China’s powerful Central Military Commission. VOA Pentagon Correspondent Al Pessin attended the meeting and later interviewed the US commander, Admiral Timothy Keating about the first day of his first visit to China in his new job.
Keating told Chinese General Guo Boxiong many people do not understand why China would test an anti-satellite weapon if it truly seeks a peaceful rise to superpower status, as it claims. The admiral said the test, in which China used a missile to destroy one of its own satellites, sent a “confusing signal” to the United States and the world.
Keating said he hopes China does not pursue its anti-satellite weapon program.
“I’d hope that once demonstrated that they, ‘put it on the shelf,'” he said. “There’s little further scientific data to be derived, in my perspective. They could have done it in the laboratory, if you will. But, it’s done and the debris is there. We can’t unring the bell. And I would hope that they now understand, we all understand, the challenges attendant to introduction of large quantities of large debris into the commons of space.”
When Admiral Keating raised the anti-satellite weapon issue during his meeting with Guo, the general chuckled and said he does not understand why the world reaction to the Chinese anti-satellite missile test has been so “dramatic.” He called the test a normal scientific experiment that had no serious consequences or ulterior motives, and didn’t threaten any country. Guo disputed the view that the test left a large amount of debris in orbit.
Guo tried to change the subject to Taiwan, but Keating insisted on staying on subject for a few more minutes, saying some people in the US military, government and business community believe the test was more than a scientific experiment and that the risk to other satellites posed by the debris is “not insignificant.”
“The explanation provided, that it was a scientific endeavor, in my view is a partially complete answer,” Keating explained. “There are, in my opinion, military overtones to this, if not direct military application.”
When the two senior officers did turn to Taiwan, Guo warned Washington not to trust assurances by leaders on the island that they will not try to declare themselves an independent government, and not to encourage them to do so.
Keating said the US recognizes that there is only one China, but he also noted that the US is committed to help Taiwan defend itself against any attack. He said he is concerned that a series of misunderstandings, possibly fueled by rhetoric during the campaign for Taiwan’s coming election, could lead to a situation neither China nor the US wants.
To avoid that, Keating called for more US-China military contacts at the leadership level, and also at lower ranks. He said that will help lead to better understanding of each country’s strategic intentions, and also to more transparency in China’s defense spending and capabilities.
On Friday, Keating also met with China’s military chief of staff and the vice foreign minister responsible for North American affairs. Over lunch, he had a long discussion with a Chinese admiral about the possibility that China might develop aircraft carriers. [Editor: Why would peacefully rising China need a blue-water navy?]
As his five-day visit continues, Keating will meet with Chinese military scholars and students, and will visit the eastern military region, directly across the straits from Taiwan.