Friday, January 19, 2007

A View from Inside the PLA on China's Anti-Satellite Test

Correction: Commenter "Nicholas Brady" registered on the 9link website and advised that the "recommended articles" linked to on the user's page are selected by the site, not the user. Therefore, the fact that "Future Warrior"'s post is linked to from General Peng's user page, that should not be construed as an endorsement by Peng of "Future Warrior"'s views. China Matters apologizes for the error and thanks "Nicholas Brady" for his clarification.

Though Chinese official media appears to be largely silent on the destruction of the FY-1c weather satellite, the Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao did run a prominent story on the topic.

Most of it was recycled from western news services, but the final paragraph did say that the Global Daily (part of the People’s Daily media group) had a quote from Major General Peng Guangqian:

Peng indicated the report should be treated with skepticism. He also stated directly that America ‘seems a bit jumpy’ and that there were no grounds for such speculation concerning China’s activities in space. He said: ‘China already possesses the capability to send an astronaut into space and bring him back. With the possession of such capabilities for precisely operated and controlled aeronautical devices, from a technological perspective, destroying a satellite in space is the most ordinary technology. However, what should be especially emphasized is, historically China has advocated that space be demilitarized and has never conducted any space military activities to this day.’


General Peng is a senior researcher with the Chinese Academy of Military Science, and has a high media profile. He is frequently interviewed on Taiwan, Chinese military doctrine, and the modernization of Chinese forces.

He is perhaps one of the first people that the Chinese media turns to for quotemongering on military matters and I think his statement reflects more his desire to maintain his pundit status with a juicy but meaningless quote than an authoritative representation of government policy.

But he may have other ways of getting a message out.

Amazingly, General Peng has a webpage on a PLA version of MySpace called 9Link. You get to see his picture, read his profile and resume, even (if you're registered) click on a button to become his buddy.

He offers links to other posts on the site that interest him and two of them concern the ASAT test.

One of them is a CNN article in the original English with a brief Chinese summary.

The other, more interesting one, is a post by "Future Warrior", who describes himself as a soldier in Beijing. Judging from his enormous oeuvre of fire-eating posts, he may very well be a "future warrior" because he is spending a lot more time at the keyboard than he is drilling on the parade ground.

The post that interests us today, entitled The Significance of the Destruction of a Satellite by a Chinese Ballistic Missile, offers an utterly unvarnished Chinese military perspective on the background of the test.

It is a pretty clear indication that strategic concerns about militarization of space and (by extension, at least to me) the credibility of China's nuclear deterrent are driving this issue, and not the desire to do the dirty on Taiwan in the near future, as some reflexively alarmist pundits are claiming.

Future Warrior writes:

The most exciting event of 2007 so far has been China's successful destruction of an obsolete weather satellite in orbit 500 miles up with a ballistic missile.

As one might gather from the use of English units instead of kilometers, the author is probably drawing on published Western sources instead of internal Chinese information. But the editorializing is pure Chinese--and pure gold. the same time [the United States] had achieved absolute information supremacy on the global battlefield with the continual improvement of its global aerial positioning and sensing systems, it blatantly pursued global capabilities in precision attack.

What is interesting is that this overweening country [the USA] began to regard space as its own back yard. The national space policy it announced in 2006 nonchalantly regarded space as its private property. At the same time, when China at the United Nations proposed a special international organization to resolve the actual problems of a space arms race that were being faced, the United States, acting as a country far in the lead in space, vehemently opposed, saying that there was no arms race in space.

He concludes:

We hope that at the same time that this Chinese ballistic missile destroys that old satellite, it will smack the American carnivores back to reason. History shows us that if you don't hit Americans, they aren't willing to sit down at the negotiation table.

Presumably the good general knows that our spooks check his blog and click on his links. And, at least as far as the missile test is concerned, "Future Warrior" is there to say the words that General Peng might have in his heart but is too constrained by his position to utter.

For me, the most puzzling and interesting part of the story has been "the dog that didn't bark" or, in this case, the government spokesman that didn't spin.

I don't attach a lot of credence to the idea that some guy at Xichang got it into his head to bust up a satellite, and the Chinese government can't figure out what to say about it.

It looks to me that the Chinese are probably keeping mum on purpose, to see what kind of international reaction the test elicits and, especially, to note how President Bush does or does not respond to this pretty unambiguous shot across his bow.

As to what the Chinese really want, well, I think it's pretty clear.

Below is the original Chinese text of the excerpts of "Future Warrior"'s post that I translated above:






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