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19 Jan 07. The BBC reported that China is facing international criticism over a weapons test it reportedly carried out in space last week. Japan has expressed concern, as have the US and Australia. It is thought that the Chinese used a ground-based medium-range ballistic missile to destroy a weather satellite that had been launched in 1999. Correspondents say this is the first known satellite intercepting test to have been conducted for more than 20 years. China has yet to confirm it. While the technology is not new, it does underline the growing capabilities of China’s armed forces, according to a BBC correspondent in Beijing, Dan Griffiths.

Late on Thursday, US National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe confirmed an article in the magazine American Aviation Week and Space Technology, which reported that the test had taken place. What we don’t want to see is some sort of spread, if you like, of an arms race into outer space

The report said that a Chinese Feng Yun 1C polar orbit weather satellite was destroyed by an anti-satellite system launched from or near China’s Xichang Space Centre on 11 January. The Chinese have yet to confirm the test, which is thought to have occurred at more than 537 miles (865km) above Earth.

Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Yasuhisa Shiozaki, said his government had asked China for confirmation, and for an explanation of what its intentions were.

“We are concerned about it firstly from the point of view of peaceful use of space, and secondly from the safety perspective,” Mr Shiozaki said. Mr Johndroe said the US “believes China’s development and testing of such weapons is inconsistent with the spirit of co-operation that both countries aspire to in the civil space area”.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Australia did not want to see “some sort of spread, if you like, of an arms race into outer space”.

There are already growing international concerns about China’s rising military power. While Beijing keeps its defence spending a closely guarded secret, analysts suggest that it has grown rapidly in recent years.

The test, if confirmed, would mean that China could now theoretically shoot down spy satellites operated by other nations, although there is no evidence to suggest that the test was carried out with anything other than non-threatening intentions. It would be the first such test since the 1980s, when both the US and the Soviet Union destroyed satellites in space. These tests were halted over concerns that the debris they produced could harm civilian and military satellite operations. The same concerns have been raised about this latest reported test. American Aviation Week and Space Technology said the move could have left “considerable space debris in an orbit used by many different satellites”. While the US may be unhappy about China’s actions, the Washington administration has recently opposed international calls to end such tests.

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