The United States and China both used advanced missiles to blow up their own satellites in a mutual show of military strength, documents published in Thursday’s Telegraph newspaper showed.
The memos, leaked by the WikiLeaks website, revealed that the US responded to China’s 2007 destruction of a weather satellite by blowing up its own malfunctioning satellite in a “test” strike.
The US insisted at the time that it undertook the operation to prevent the satellite returning to earth with a toxic fuel tank which would pose a health hazard.
A leaked cable sent from the US embassy in Beijing in February 2008, the day after the US strike, revealed that China was doubtful of this explanation.
“Teng Jianqun, Deputy Secretary General of the China Arms Control and Disarmament Department, described the shoot-down as unnecessary and simply an opportunity to test the US missile defense system,” the memo said.
According to the cable, Teng said the shoot-down was “an ideal opportunity to voice their (the US) objection” and proved “the US missile defense system is also an offensive system.”
Another leaked cable revealed that the US embassy in China received “direct confirmation of the results of the anti-satellite test” from the US military command in the Pacific.
The White House was shocked in February 2007 when China demonstrated its capability to strike in space by blowing up a weather satellite 530 miles above earth.
In another leaked cable sent in January 2008, it was communicated that officials working for the then secretary of state Condoleezza Rice had warned Beijing.
“A Chinese attack on a satellite using a weapon launched by a ballistic missile threatens to destroy space systems that the US and other nations use for commerce and national security,” the officials said.
“Destroying satellites endangers people. Any purposeful interference with US space systems will be interpreted by the US as an infringement of its rights and considered an escalation in a crisis or conflict,” they added.
A month later, Robert Gates, then US defence secretary, authorized the USS Lake Erie cruiser to fire a highly-sophisticated SM-3 rocket at the USA 193 spy satellite, the US’s first such strike in 23 years.
The strike raised tensions between the two countries, with “angry” China claiming at a defence summit in 2008, that the US and themselves were “neither allies nor adversaries,” the cables said.
Another memo claimed that China was worried over US plans to place defence radars in Japan and alleged the US was developing an “airborne laser system” which could “attack a missile in launch phase over the sovereign territory.”
The latest memo, dated January 2010, showed that China had successfully used a SC-19 missile to destroy a CSS-X-11 missile 150 miles above earth, an action the US considered as an anti-satellite test.
The cable showed that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shared the previous administration’s concern over China’s plans and said “objections… previously delivered in January 2007 and January 2008 are still valid.”