U.S. Officials Try To Interpret China's Silence Over Satellite

U.S. Officials Try To Interpret China's Silence Over Satellite
January 22nd, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: U.S. Officials Try To Interpret China's Silence Over Satellite

U.S. Officials Try To Interpret China's Silence Over Satellite
New York Times
January 22, 2007
Pg. 3

By David E. Sanger and Joseph Kahn
WASHINGTON, Jan. 21 — Bush administration officials said that they had been unable to get even the most basic diplomatic response from China after their detection of a successful test to destroy a satellite 10 days ago, and that they were uncertain whether China’s top leaders, including President Hu Jintao, were fully aware of the test or the reaction it would engender.
In interviews over the past two days, American officials with access to the intelligence on the test said the United States kept mum about it in hopes that China would come forth with an explanation.
It was more than a week before the intelligence leaked out: a Chinese missile had been launched and an aging weather satellite in its path, more than 500 miles above the earth, had been reduced to rubble. But protests filed by the United States, Japan, Canada and Australia, among others, were met with silence — and quizzical looks from officials in The Chinese Foreign Ministry, who seemed to be caught unaware.
The mysteries surrounding China’s silence are reminiscent of the cold war, when every case of muscle-flexing by competing powers was examined for evidence of a deeper agenda.
The American officials presume that Mr. Hu was generally aware of the missile testing program, but speculate that he may not have known the timing of the test. China’s continuing silence would appear to suggest, at a minimum, that Mr. Hu did not anticipate a strong international reaction, either because he had not fully prepared for the possibility that the test would succeed, or because he did not foresee that American intelligence on it would be shared with allies, or leaked.
In an interview late Friday, Stephen J. Hadley, President Bush’s national security adviser, raised the possibility that China’s leaders might not have fully known what their military was doing.
“The question on something like this is, at what level in the Chinese government are people witting, and have they approved?” Mr. Hadley asked. He suggested that the diplomatic protests were intended, in part, to force Mr. Hu to give some clue about China’s intentions.
“It will ensure that the issue will now get ventilated at the highest levels in China,” he said, “and it will be interesting to see how it comes out.”
The threat to United States interests is clear: the test demonstrated that China could destroy American spy satellites in low-earth orbit (the very satellites that picked up the destruction of the Chinese weather satellite).
Chinese military officials have extensively studied how the United States has used satellite imagery in the Persian Gulf war, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in tracking North Korea’s nuclear weapons program — an area in which there has been some limited intelligence-sharing between Chinese and American officials. Several senior administration officials said such studies had included extensive analysis of how satellite surveillance could be used by the United States in case of a crisis over Taiwan.
“This is a wake-up call,” said Robert Joseph, the under secretary of state for arms control and international security. “A small number of states are pursuing capabilities to exploit our vulnerabilities.”
As a result, officials said, the Chinese test is likely to prompt an urgent new effort inside the Bush administration to find ways to counter China’s antisatellite technology. Among the options are efforts to “harden” vulnerable satellites, improve their maneuverability so that they can evade crude kinetic weapons like the one that destroyed the Chinese satellite and develop a backup system of replacement satellites that could be launched immediately if one in orbit is destroyed.
American officials noted that the United States and Russia had not conducted such tests for two decades, and that the international norm had changed, in part because so many private satellites had been launched by many nations. “The Chinese seem out of step on this one, and we don’t know why,” one official said.
But the more immediate mystery about the destruction of the satellite revolves around China’s prolonged silence — and what it says about the commitments President Hu and President Bush have made concerning increasing their communication, and diminishing the secrecy around China’s military buildup.
Chinese leaders often hesitate to engage with foreign officials on matters of military secrecy. It took days to get the Chinese to respond in the first foreign policy crisis to confront the Bush administration — the forcing down, on Chinese territory, of an American spy plane in 2001. Eventually the plane’s crew was returned, unharmed, but the prolonged silence unnerved American officials.
In this case, the communication blackout raised the possibility that top Chinese officials were either trying to anger the United States or that the test was conducted without the full involvement of the one official who has authority to coordinate the military and civilian bureaucracies: President Hu. American officials said they believed that the Foreign Ministry — the one department that deals daily with the rest of the world — was left in the dark.
“What we heard, in essence, was, ‘We’ll get back to you,’ ” said a senior American diplomat. “It was unclear they even knew what was going on.”
Chinese political and military analysts, who would not speak on the record about an issue the Chinese government still regards as secret, said they considered it unlikely that the army’s Second Artillery forces, in charge of its ballistic missiles, would conduct a test of a sophisticated new weapon without approval from the highest levels.
But they suggested that the test might have been approved in principle, with little advance preparation for the diplomatic fallout in the event it was successful. That entails not just new military worries; the destruction of the weather satellite left debris in space that could damage satellites from other nations.
“It’s the kind of silence that makes you wonder what’s happening inside the country,” said another senior American official who has been monitoring the case. “I’m sure the Chinese leadership knew there were tests under way, in a general sort of way. But they don’t seem to have been prepared for a success, and they clearly had not thought about what they would say to the world.”
The timing is significant. Chinese officials have hinted in recent months that they are prepared to grant an American request to establish a military-to-military hot line that may be used to enhance communication. But China has moved slowly to establish the link, which is based on the cold war hot line to Moscow, and there is little evidence that Chinese military officers would have offered an explanation for the antisatellite test if it had been set up.
President Bush and Mr. Hu hold regular phone conversations about continuing issues, including how to manage North Korea’s nuclear program. But Mr. Hu and Mr. Bush never developed the kind of close ties that Mr. Bush’s aides forecast once the pragmatic-sounding Mr. Hu, who is close to Mr. Bush’s age, took office.
Their relationship suffered during an awkward trip by Mr. Hu to Washington last spring, when Mr. Bush declined to hold a state dinner for him — there was a working lunch instead — and the arrival ceremony was marred by a mistaken announcement that the anthem that would be played would be for the Republic of China, the formal name for Taiwan.
David E. Sanger reported from Washington, and Joseph Kahn from Beijing.

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