China’s public silence concerning the ASAT test has been rather mystifying and embarrassing.
The first comment by a Ministry of Foreign Affairs official on the matter that I could find came in an informal setting: a reception at which the opportunities for polite evasion and escape from dogged newshounds are greatly reduced.
Deutsche Presse apparently intercepted China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs portly spokesperson Liu Jianchao on his way to the dessert buffet at the China New Year’s reception for foreign correspondents in Beijing and elicited a rather abashed admission that MOFA knows nothing—nothing!—about any ASAT test.
As posted on a site called Monsters and Critics, the news report reads:
A foreign ministry spokesman, Liu Jianchao, told reporters Friday at a New Year's reception that the ministry 'had not been informed' of the military action.
A high-level Chinese official said the Chinese 'had not participated in an arms race in outer space and would never' do so in future.
Another Chinese official confirmed to dpa that the foreign ministry had not been informed of the measure.
'We don't know what's going on,' he said.
I am also rather impressed that the DPA has the phone number of somebody at Xichang:
The test that destroyed the Fengyun-1C weather satellite, 850 kilometres distant, was carried out from a launching pad in Xichang in Sichuan province, a civil service official at the launch site told dpa by telephone, without giving any further reasons for the launch.
The official referred to China's central military command in Beijing, who he said was behind the launch.
Then, in his January 25 presser, Liu responded formally to several questions concerning the missile test. He brought very little to the discussion except the admission that China had informed the U.S. and Japan “soon after they conveyed their concern”, which one can take to mean “well after the test”; certainly not before the test, and apparently not immediately after.
It seems the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is way out of the loop on this one. They have no talking points, and no brief to rally China’s allies and sympathizers openly to support or excuse the Chinese test.
To me, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the PLA has turned into a satellite-zapping rogue. What I think it means is that the Chinese leadership wants to manage the ASAT issue secretly and bilaterally with the few powers that have a meaningful stake in the issue: the U.S., Russia, and Japan.
So the Ministry of Foreign Affairs/public diplomacy route simply wasn’t part of their calculations.
However, given the degree to which the ASAT test has become a public football—itself a signal that the Bush administration may have no interest in engaging on this issue—the MOFA may have a larger role in defending and selling China’s ASAT posture than was originally anticipated.
Below is the complete text of the ASAT-related questions and responses from the Jan. 25 press briefing.
Q: It is reported that China has informed the US Assistant Secretary Hill of its outer space test. Could you confirm? Why didn't China inform other countries before the test? Why did it take so long before China respond to other countries' concern after the test?
A: China has informed relevant parties, including the U.S., on the recent test in the outer space. I'd like to emphasize that China consistently advocates peaceful utilization of the outer space, and opposes to weaponization of arms race in the outer space. Neither has China has participated, nor will it participate in arms race of the outer space in any form.
Q: Doesn't China's outer space experiment contradict its principle of opposing weaponization of outer space? Why hadn't the Chinese government explained to foreign governments and media until long after the experiment?
A: China has nothing to conceal on this matter. Actually, China briefed the parties concerned on the outer space experiment soon after they expressed their concern. I emphasized just now that China's principled position of opposing weaponization and arms race of outer space remains unchanged. Meanwhile, I'd like to emphasize that this experiment is not targeted at any country, nor will it pose threat to any country.
Q:Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Shiozaki said at today's press conference that China does not make full explanation to the test in outer space and Japan will demand further clarification from China. Will China conduct more test?
A: Actually we have informed Japan. I don't know what else information Japan needs. If Japan wants to have an exchange with China, we welcome it.
On the second question, I have not heard about the plan for another test.
Q: Is the Chinese government worried that it will trigger arms race in outer space?
A: The position of China to oppose weaponization and arms race in outer space has not changed. China will continue to promote de-weaponization and prevent arms race in outer space. We uphold peaceful use of outer space.
Q: What countries have been informed by China? Before or after the test? Will China attend the international conference to aid Lebanon? How much will China donate?
A: After the test, China has informed some countries including the US and Japan. It shows again China's responsible attitude on the issue.
Q: Today the Taiwan authorities expressed their concerns on the test in outer space by the mainland and said the mainland is seeking hegemony in outer space. What is your comment? China recently unveiled Jian-10 fighter jet. The Taiwan authorities made remarks on the military development of China. What is your response?
A: I don't want to link the test in outer space with Taiwan question.
You asked me about the development of fighter in China. I think it shall not worry the people who stick to one China principle and oppose Taiwan independence and the separation from the motherland.