Archive for ‘US’


Chandrayaan-2: India space launch delayed by technical problem

The rocket that will carry the Chandrayaan-2 satelliteImage copyright EPA
Image caption The rocket weighs as much as a fully-loaded jumbo jet

The launch of India’s second lunar mission has been halted less than an hour before the scheduled blast-off, due to a technical problem.

The countdown stopped 56 minutes before the launch after a “technical snag was observed in launch vehicle system,” India’s space agency said.

The satellite had been scheduled for launch at 02:51 local time on Monday (21:21 GMT Sunday) from Sriharikota space station on India’s eastern coast.

A new launch date will follow soon.

What is this mission all about?

India hopes the $150m mission, Chandrayaan-2, will be the first to land on the Moon’s south pole.

It will focus on the lunar surface, searching for water and minerals and measuring moonquakes, among other things.

If successful, India will become the fourth country to make a soft landing on the Moon’s surface.

Only the US, China and the former Soviet Union have been able to do so.

India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has championed the country’s space programmes, but critics would like to see poverty at home tackled first.

Presentational white space

The chief of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), K Sivan, said this was “the most complex space mission ever to be undertaken by the agency”.

If the launch had gone to plan, the lander and rover would have been expected to touch down in early September.

India’s space agency is yet to give more details on why the launch was delayed and how it will affect the timeline.

The country’s first lunar mission in 2008 – Chandrayaan-1 – did not land on the lunar surface, but it carried out the first and most detailed search for water on the Moon using radars.

How will it get to the Moon?

Chandrayaan-2 (Moon vehicle 2) will attempt a soft landing near the little-explored south pole of the Moon.

India is using its most powerful rocket, the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III (GSLV Mk-III), in this mission. It weighs 640 tonnes (almost 1.5 times the weight of a fully-loaded 747 jumbo jet) and at 44 metres (144ft) is as high as a 14-storey building.

Graphic showing the launch vehicle with different parts labelled
The spacecraft weighs 2,379kg (5,244lb) and has three distinct parts: an orbiter, a lander and a rover.

The orbiter, which has a mission life of a year, will take images of the lunar surface, and “sniff” the tenuous atmosphere.

The lander (named Vikram, after the founder of Isro) weighs about half as much, and carries within its belly a 27kg Moon rover with instruments to analyse the lunar soil. In its 14-day life, the rover (called Pragyan – wisdom in Sanskrit) can travel up to a half a kilometre from the lander and will send data and images back to Earth for analysis.

“India can hope to get the first selfies from the lunar surface once the rover gets on its job,” Dr Sivan said.

Presentational grey line

A new frontier for India’s space programme

By science writer Pallava Bagla

A soft landing on another planetary body – a feat achieved by just three other countries so far – would be a huge technological achievement for Isro and India’s space ambitions.

It would pave the way for future Indian missions to land on Mars and an asteroid. More importantly, it would open up the possibility of India sending astronauts to the Moon. India hopes to carry out a crewed space flight by 2022.

India also wants to assert itself as a space power to be reckoned with – and national pride is riding high as it aims to hoist its flag on the surface of the Moon.

A successful mission to the Moon would also be a win for India’s ambitious space agency, which has had a string of successes recently.

Media caption Is India a space superpower?

In 2014, it successfully put a satellite into orbit around Mars, becoming only the fourth nation to do so. In 2017, India created history by successfully launching 104 satellites on a single mission, overtaking the previous record of 37 satellites launched by Russia in 2014.

All eyes are on Isro again. Global interest in India’s frugal Moon mission is peaking, according to Simonetta Di Pippo, director of the UN office of Outer Space Affairs.

“The mission’s studies of lunar topography, mineralogy, elemental abundance, the lunar exosphere, and signatures of hydroxyl and water ice will contribute to scientific progress for all of humankind,” she says.

The Indian space community is nervous and Dr Sivan says “there is churning in his stomach”.

“Unknown-unknowns can kill a mission, [although] no stone has been left unturned to understand all the complexities”.

Presentational grey line

How long is the journey to the Moon?

The launch is only the beginning of a 384,000km (239,000-mile) journey – the robotic craft is expected to land on the Moon some 54 days later.

Isro chose a circuitous route to take advantage of the Earth’s gravity, which will help slingshot the satellite towards the Moon. India does not have a rocket powerful enough to hurl Chandrayaan-2 on a direct path.

“There will be 15 terrifying minutes for scientists once the lander is released and is hurled towards the south pole of the Moon,” Dr Sivan says.

Graphic: How India's Chandrayaan-2 will reach the moon
He explains that those who had been controlling the spacecraft until then will have no role to play in those crucial moments. The actual landing, he adds, is an autonomous operation dependent on all systems performing as they should. Otherwise, the lander could crash into the lunar surface.

Earlier this year, Israel’s first Moon mission crash-landed while attempting to touch down.

Site of successful moon landings graphic showing where other countries have landed on the moon

Who is on the team?

Nearly 1,000 engineers and scientists have worked on this mission. But for the first time, Isro has chosen women to lead an interplanetary expedition.

Two women are steering India’s journey to the Moon. While programme director Muthaya Vanitha has nurtured Chandrayaan-2 over the years, it will be navigated by Ritu Karidhal.

“Women power is powering India’s Moon ambitions,” Dr Sivan said, adding that at Isro, “women and men are all equal. Only talent matters – not the gender.”

Source: The BBC


‘We need to talk’: call for Chinese and Indian navies to communicate

  • Ambassador to China Vikram Misri says they will be ‘meeting more and more in common waters’, and more exchanges are needed
  • He also says preparations are under way for President Xi Jinping to visit India
The INS Kolkata arrives in Qingdao for PLA Navy 70th anniversary celebrations in April. The Indian ambassador called for more communication between the two navies. Photo: Reuters
The INS Kolkata arrives in Qingdao for PLA Navy 70th anniversary celebrations in April.
The Indian ambassador called for more communication between the two navies. Photo: Reuters
The Chinese and Indian navies should establish communication because they are increasingly operating within close proximity, according to India’s ambassador to China.

While the two nations’ militaries communicated extensively, it was mainly between their land forces, and that should be extended to the navies and air forces, Vikram Misri said.

“We need to talk about the two air forces and the two navies – especially the two navies – because we are operating in the same waters and increasingly in the coming years, we will be meeting more and more in common waters,” Misri said.

“I think it is important for us to develop those levels of understanding and communication,” he said. “There are some [navy and air force] exchanges now, but not as well developed as in the case of the land force.”
China and India have made efforts to repair their relations since a tense stand-off at the Doklam plateau two years ago, when communications between their forces along the border were seen as inadequate to contain the tension.
China and India have sought to repair relations after a tense stand-off at Doklam. Photo: AFP
China and India have sought to repair relations after a tense stand-off at Doklam. Photo: AFP

Misri said the two nations had made incremental progress, and opened new points where “border personnel can meet and exchange information, or exchange views about any particular situation”.

The ambassador was visiting the Indian consulate in Hong Kong over the weekend, six months after taking up the post and six weeks after Prime Minister Narendra Modi was re-elected.

He said preparations were under way for Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit India, which was expected to happen in the fourth quarter, after they pledged earlier to strengthen cooperation.

Tensions between 

China and India

have periodically flared along their 4,000km (2,485-mile) border, resulting in a brief war in 1962. Relations have also been strained by China’s ties with Pakistan, and India’s concern over China’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean.

India has also not signed on to China’s global trade and infrastructure strategy, the

Belt and Road Initiative

, which has projects that run through the disputed Kashmir region.

“Our concerns with regards to this particular initiative are very clear, and we have continued to share them very, very frankly with our Chinese partners,” Misri said. “I think there is understanding on the part of our Chinese partners with regard to this.”
Indian ambassador to China Vikram Misri said New Delhi’s concerns on the Belt and Road Initiative were clear. Photo: Xiaomei Chen
Indian ambassador to China Vikram Misri said New Delhi’s concerns on the Belt and Road Initiative were clear. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

But he said the two nations should not let their differences evolve into disputes, and they should focus on areas where they can cooperate.

One such area was maritime and investment cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, including infrastructure and disaster response. The US in recent years has focused on the Indo-Pacific region, and has asked its allies to send naval vessels to the area as a counterbalance to Beijing.

“We have made the point that our vision of the Indo-Pacific is not a strategy, which sometimes is a concern on the part of some partners, aimed against any particular country,” Misri said. “It is definitely not a military alliance in any format.

“It is on the other hand a vision that aims at economic and development cooperation with our partners in the Indo-Pacific space,” he said, adding that India was discussing such cooperation with China.

He also said trilateral meetings between China, India and Russia would become more regular after their three leaders met on the sidelines of the 

Group of 20

summit in Osaka, Japan last month, when they vowed to uphold multilateralism.

Those meetings would allow the nations to address challenges facing the international trading system and pushback against globalisation, but Misri said they should not be seen as a bid to counter the US, which is also involved in a trade battle with India.

India also had a trilateral meeting with Japan and the United States during the G20 summit.

“The fact that these countries seek us out also shows that they see value in engaging with India, and we have important issues to discuss in each of these settings,” he said. “None of our individual relationships is going to come at the cost of a relationship with any other partner.”

The ambassador said there could be a broader consensus on counterterrorism. Photo: AP
The ambassador said there could be a broader consensus on counterterrorism. Photo: AP

Misri also said there could be a broader consensus between China and India on counterterrorism. The two nations have clashed over Indian efforts to blacklist Masood Azhar, leader of the Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), at the United Nations, which China objected to for years – a move seen in India as being done at the behest of Islamabad.

Azhar was finally listed as a global terrorist by the UN in May, after JeM claimed responsibility for a deadly terror attack on Indian security forces in Pulwama in February, although the listing did not directly reference the attack.

“It could have happened earlier … but I’m glad that it did happen, and we hope to build on that – that should be taken as progress, and we hope to build on that in the coming years,” Misri said.

“Everybody is aware of the context in which the listing happened, and therefore, I don’t think it’s hidden from anybody as to what this was aimed at or who this was aimed at, or what the motivation for the action might have been.”

As for the tensions between India and Pakistan following the terror strike in Indian-controlled Kashmir, Misri said progress would be “largely dependent on Pakistan” and the actions it needed to take to address the “ecosystem of terror that prevails in different parts of that country”.

Source: SCMP


Shanghai begins new waste sorting era, as China eyes cleaner image

  • The city’s ambitious waste and recycling rules took effect on Monday, aiming to emulate successes of comparable policies in Japan, Taiwan and California
  • President Xi Jinping has urged China – the world’s second-biggest waste producer after the United States – to sort rubbish better
Recyclables such as plastic must be separated from wet garbage, dry garbage and hazardous waste under the new rules in Shanghai. Photo: AFP
Recyclables such as plastic must be separated from wet garbage, dry garbage and hazardous waste under the new rules in Shanghai. Photo: AFP
At 9pm, Li Zhigang was sitting in front of his fruit shop on a bustling street in central Shanghai’s Xujiahui area, peeling the thin layers of plastic from rotten pears and mangoes.
“This is so much trouble!” he mumbled to himself while throwing the plastic into one trash can and the fruit into another.
In the past, Li simply threw away what could not be sold with the packaging on, but from July 1 he could be fined up to 200 yuan (about US$30) for doing so.
Like Li, many of the tens of millions of residents in the eastern Chinese city have been complaining in recent weeks that the introduction of compulsory 
household garbage sorting

is making life difficult, but at the same time have been having to learn to do it.

Calls for garbage sorting have brought little progress in China in the past decade, but Shanghai is leading a fresh start for the world’s second-largest waste producer with its new municipal solid waste (MSW) regime, observers have said.
China generated 210 million tonnes of MSW in 2017, 48 million tonnes less than the United States, according to the World Bank’s What a Waste database.

“If we say China is now classifying its waste, then it’s Shanghai that is really doing it,” said Chen Liwen, a veteran environmentalist who has worked for non-governmental organisations devoted to waste classification for the past decade.

“It’s starting late, comparing with the US, Japan or Taiwan, but if it’s successful in such a megacity with such a huge population, it will mean a lot for the world,” she said.

A cleaner re-sorts household waste left at a residential facility in Shanghai. Photo: Alice Yan
A cleaner re-sorts household waste left at a residential facility in Shanghai. Photo: Alice Yan

Household waste in the city is now required to be sorted into four categories: wet garbage (household food), dry garbage (residual waste), recyclable waste and hazardous waste.

General rubbish bins that had previously taken all types of household waste were removed from buildings. Instead, residents were told to visit designated trash collection stations to dispose of different types of waste during designated periods of the day.

Companies and organisations flouting the new rules could be fined 50,000-500,000 yuan (US$7,000-70,000), while individual offenders risked a fine of 50-200 yuan.

The city’s urban management officers will be mainly responsible for identifying those who breach the rules.

Huang Rong, the municipal government’s deputy secretary general, said on Friday that nearly 14,000 inspections had been carried out around the city and more than 13,000 people had been warned on the issue since the regulations were announced at the start of the year.

As July 1’s enforcement of the rules approached, it became a much-discussed topic among Shanghainese people. A hashtag meaning “Shanghai residents almost driven crazy by garbage classification” was one of the most popular on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform.

“My daughter took a box of expired medicine from her workplace to the trash collection station near our home yesterday because she couldn’t find the local bin for hazardous waste,” Li said.

While the measures force a change of habits for most people, they bring opportunities for some.

Du Huanzheng, director of the Recycling Economy Institute at Tongji University, said waste sorting was crucial for China’s recycling industry.

“Without proper classification, a lot of garbage that can be recycled is burned, and that’s a pity,” he said. “After being classified, items suitable to be stored and transported can now be recycled.”

G20 set to agree on ways to reduce plastics in oceans

Shanghai’s refuse treatment plants deal with 19,300 tonnes of residual waste and 5,050 tonnes of kitchen waste every day, according to the municipal government. By contrast, only 3,300 tonnes of recyclables per day are collected at present.

Nationwide, the parcel delivery industry used more than 13 billion polypropylene woven bags, plastic bags and paper boxes as well as 330 million rolls of tape in 2016, but less than 20 per cent of this was recycled, according to a report by the State Post Bureau.

Prices of small sortable rubbish bins for home use have surged on e-commerce platforms, while bin makers are also developing smart models in response to new needs.

Some communities are deploying bins that people are required to sign in with their house number to use, and are equipped with a “big data analysis system”. The system records households have “actively participated” and which have not, so that neighbourhood management can publicise their addresses and make house visits, according to a report by

In a residential community in Songjiang district, grocery store owner Nie Chuanguo has found something new to sell: a rubbish throwing service.

He has offered to visit homes, collect waste and throw it into the right bin at a designated time. He charges 30 yuan a month for those living on the ground and first floors, 40 yuan for those on the second and third, and 50 yuan for the fourth and fifth.

“This service will start from July 1. Many people have come to inquire about it,” he said.

According to Du, waste classification is not only about environmental impact or business opportunities. “Garbage sorting is an important part of a country’s soft power,” he said.

For China, it was an opportunity to improve its international reputation, he said. “In the past, Chinese people were rich and travelled abroad, but they threw rubbish wilfully, making foreigners not admit we are a respected powerhouse.”

He added: “It’s also related to 1.3 billion people’s health, since the current waste treatment methods – burying and burning – are not friendly to the environment.”

Shanghai’s part in tackling waste comes amid President Xi Jinping’s repeated calls for the country to sort waste better.

“For local officials, it is a political task,” said Chen, who heads a waste management programme in rural China called Zero Waste Villages.

Huang said the president had asked Shanghai in particular to set a good example in waste classification.

In March 2017, the central government set out plans for a standardised system and regulations for 

rubbish sorting by 2020

, with a target for 46 major cities, including Shanghai, to recycle 35 per cent of their waste by then.

In early June, Xi issued a long statement calling for more action from local governments.

However, it was a long process that required input from individuals, government and enterprises, Du said.

“Japan took one generation to move to doing its waste sorting effectively, so we shouldn’t have the expectation that our initiative will succeed in several years,” Du said.

How China’s ban on plastic waste imports caused turmoil

“The lessons we can learn from Japan include carrying out campaigns again and again, and paying close attention to educating young pupils about rubbish classification.”

Chen echoed that Shanghai’s waste sorting frenzy now was only a beginning.

“What we can see now is that people are being pushed to sort waste by regulators, but what’s next? How shall we keep up the enthusiasm?” she asked.

She suggested that how well officials worked on garbage sorting should be included in their job appraisal, and that ultimately people should pay for waste disposal.

“The key to waste classification, going by international experience, is making polluters pay,” Chen said.

Most of Hong Kong and Taiwan’s dumped plastic bottles come from mainland

There is plenty of experience for Shanghai to learn from in California, where unrecyclable waste is charged for at twice the price of recyclables, and Taiwan, where people are charged only for disposal of residual waste, according to Chen.

Taiwan has one of the world’s most impressive recycling rates, with nearly 60 per cent of its waste between January and October last year having been recycled, according to the Taipei government.

The daily amount of garbage produced per person during that period was about 0.41kg – down substantially from 1.14kg in 1997 – the government said.

Hong Kong has tried to copy the Taipei model over the years but failed, with a recycling rate of MSW slightly above 30 per cent in recent years, according to official data.

The city has recently postponed a mandatory 

waste charging scheme

until late 2020 at the earliest. Under its plan, 80 per cent of household waste will have to go into designated bags and will be priced at an average of 11 HK cents (1 US cent) per litre.

On Friday, Shanghai officials admitted that there were plenty of challenges involved in
sorting and transport.
Zhang Lixin, deputy chief of the municipal housing administration, said: “Many property management companies fear the difficulties brought by garbage sorting or are reluctant to implement the new rules.”
The administration trained the heads of more than 200 companies across the city in April, he said.
“We do find that some cleaners and rubbish trucks mix the waste, despite residents being asked to throw different types in different bins,” said Deng Jianping, head of the city’s landscaping and city appearance administration – the government department spearheading the initiative.
In the interests of curbing such practices, they could face fines of up to 50,000 yuan or even have their licences revoked, he said.
Source: SCMP

Japan’s Abe and China’s Xi Jinping meet amid trade war fears

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (R) shakes hands with Chinese President Xi JinpingImage copyright AFP

Chinese President Xi Jinping has met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a time of warming ties between the two nations.

Relations have historically been strained, but concerns over US trade policy and North Korea’s nuclear programme have shifted them closer.

The two leaders met on the sidelines of the forthcoming G20 summit in Japan.

“I want to open up a new age of Japan-China relations hand in hand with President Xi,” Mr Abe told reporters.

The pair agreed to work together to promote “free and fair trade” following a “very frank exchange”, a Japanese official said.

It is the first official visit Mr Xi has made to Japan since becoming president in 2013. At the outset of their talks on Thursday, Mr Abe invited him to return on a state visit next year.

“Around the time of the cherry blossoms next spring, I would like to welcome President Xi as a state guest to Japan,” he said. “[I] hope to further elevate ties to the next level.”

What did the leaders discuss?

Japan and China are by far Asia’s largest economies and the talks on Thursday focused strongly on business.

Last year, the two sides signed a deal to maintain annual dialogue and to co-operate on innovation. This time around, officials say, they pledged to develop a “free and fair trading system” in a “complicated” global economic landscape.

Media caption North Korea has been called out for evading UN sanctions

Another topic on the schedule would probably have been North Korea. While China is North Korea’s biggest trading partner, both Tokyo and Beijing want it to abandon its nuclear programme.

Mr Abe has only very limited leverage on the matter and will try to sway both the US and China to keep Tokyo’s interests in mind in any negotiations.

The G20 summit will begin on Saturday, but the main meeting is likely to be overshadowed by the many bilateral talks that are set to happen on the sidelines.

For example, Mr Xi will meet President Trump as China and the US try to resolve their trade dispute.

Do Japan and China get along?

In the past, relations have been tense. While the two countries do have close trade ties, politically things have been much more fragile.

Japanese and Chinese flagsImage copyright EPA
Image caption Japan and China have not always had warm relations

Japan’s World War Two occupation of parts of China remains a very emotional issue. There are also several ongoing territorial disputes between Tokyo and Beijing.

But tensions with Washington over its protectionist trade policy have driven Japan and China into an unlikely friendship.

In 2018, Mr Abe hailed his high-profile visit to Beijing as an historic turning point. Both leaders have since promised to establish positive, constructive, relations.

Source: The BBC


Are China and US racing towards inevitable military confrontation in outer space?

  • Beijing is still behind in terms of its space-based military capabilities, but the gap is closing fast, experts say
  • US law now prohibits Nasa from communicating with China’s space agency
Illustration: Kaliz Lee
Illustration: Kaliz Lee

This story is part of an ongoing series on US-China relations produced jointly by the South China Morning Post and POLITICO, with reporting from Asia and the United States.

A top Chinese general has a warning for any US leaders planning an arms race in space: be prepared to lose.

Outspending a rival power into economic exhaustion might have helped the US win the cold war, said Qiao Liang, a major general in the Chinese air force who co-wrote the book Unrestricted Warfare: China’s Master Plan to Destroy America. But he said it would not work against a wealthy manufacturing powerhouse like China.

“China is not the Soviet Union,” Qiao said in an interview with the South China Morning Post, a news partner of POLITICO. “If the United States thinks it can also drag China into an arms race and take down China as it did with the Soviets … in the end, probably it would not be China who is down on the ground.”
Qiao’s words come as both Washington and Beijing are pouring money and resources into an increasingly militarised space race that some security specialists and former US officials fear is heightening the risk of war. The aggressive manoeuvres include US President Donald Trump’s proposal for a stand-alone 
Space Force

– which Qiao dismissed as “an unwise move” – and efforts by both countries to develop laser and cyber weapons that could take out each other’s satellites.

The rivalry is plainly on the minds of leaders at the Pentagon, which cites “space” 86 times in a new threat assessment of China’s military. It also warns that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is working on “enabling long-range precision strikes” and developing directed-energy weapons for use in orbit.
Sea launch rockets China to forefront of global space race

Trump, Vice-President Mike Pence and a slew of US military leaders have cited China’s military space programmes as a key rationale for proposing the Space Force, which would gather nearly all the defence department’s space-related programmes into a new military branch – similar to the one China created four years ago. Congress is considering the administration’s plan, although some defence hawks are sceptical.

Pence has also expressed alarm at China’s success in

landing uncrewed probes on the moon

, a place US astronauts last visited in 1972.

“Last December, China became the first nation to land on the far side of the moon and revealed their ambition to seize the lunar strategic high ground and become the world’s pre-eminent spacefaring nation,” Pence said at a meeting of the National Space Council in March.

China and the US are pouring money into an increasingly militarised space race that some observers fear is heightening the risk of war. Photo: Shutterstock
China and the US are pouring money into an increasingly militarised space race that some observers fear is heightening the risk of war. Photo: Shutterstock

Even more worrying, neither country seems interested in placing the issue on the diplomatic agenda to lower the tensions, some security advocates say. That is in contrast to the decades of space cooperation that have existed between the US and Russia.

“One of my biggest concerns is that for all the talk about how horrible an armed conflict with China would be for everyone, all the current US policies and actions seem to be preparing for armed conflict instead of avoiding it,” said Brian Weeden, director of programme planning at the Secure World Foundation, which advocates for using space in a peaceful and sustainable way.

“There is not a lot of dialogue between the US and China,” he said.

But other space experts say China is a greater threat to the United States than most people realise – and even an “imminent threat”, according to independent analyst Namrata Goswami.

“If anything, it [the threat from China] is underappreciated and underplayed in the US,” she said. “I suspect that is because the US military might not want to call attention to its own vulnerabilities regarding its space assets.”

Chang’e 4 lunar probe sends first photo of far side of the moon

Qiao said China was not seeking a space war but was preparing to counter any nation, including the US, that sought to pose a threat to its national security.

China’s economic prowess left it well positioned to prevail in an expensive contest with the US, he said.

“When the United States and the Soviet Union engaged in the cold war and the arms race, the United States was the largest manufacturing country, and the Soviet Union was not even the second,” he said. “But today it is China who is the world’s top manufacturer.”

A full-size model of the core module of China’s space station goes on show at Airshow China in November. Photo: Xinhua
A full-size model of the core module of China’s space station goes on show at Airshow China in November. Photo: Xinhua

Recent reports from US spy agencies and think tanks indicate that China’s efforts are advancing quickly. Those include estimates that China will soon be able to field high-powered lasers designed to attack objects in low-Earth orbit – and evidence that its weapons can already attack targets much further from the Earth than the United States can.

China’s reliance on space assets is also expanding: it has more than 120 intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance satellites of its own – second only to the United States.

About half of them are owned and operated by the military and could be used to track and target US forces around the world, the report warns.

Will China’s new laser satellite be ‘Death Star’ for submarines?

The threat getting the most attention is the danger China’s orbiting weapons might pose to the satellites the United States relies on for communications, navigation and surveillance – for both military operations and economic well-being.

China is heavily investing in so-called counterspace technology, including the development of at least three antisatellite missile systems, according to an April report from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. It is also developing satellites that can make physical contact with other satellites in orbit, the report said.

While that technology can be used for repairs in orbit, it can also be used to disable a satellite or tear off a solar array to impact a satellite’s power source.

China is developing satellites that can make physical contact with other satellites in orbit. Photo: Xinhua
China is developing satellites that can make physical contact with other satellites in orbit. Photo: Xinhua

The Pentagon’s “China Military Power” report found that China is also pursuing new jamming and “directed energy” weapons that can interfere with satellites. In a conflict, that technology would probably be used to “blind and deafen the enemy”, the report said.

China also reorganised the PLA in 2015 to create a Strategic Support Force, a military branch dedicated entirely to space, electronic and cyberwarfare. The new branch was designed to bring space assets from across the military under one organisation, similar to the goal of the US Space Force.

The space-centric branch, which reports directly to the Central Military Commission, is focused primarily on satellite launches and intelligence, navigation and communication operations, but also conducts research and development on new counterspace capabilities, according to the US Defence Intelligence Agency report published in February.

China ‘has overtaken Russia’ as a maritime power

Chinese military units are also training with missiles that could damage or destroy satellites, the agency also reported in February, adding that China will probably have a ground-based laser that can blind optical sensors on satellites in low-Earth orbit by 2020.

Unlike the United States or Russia, China is also believed to have the capacity to use missiles to attack satellites in the more distant geosynchronous orbit, or 35,000km (22,000 miles) above Earth.

If any country were to launch a physical strike in geosynchronous orbit (GEO), the debris field would make the area, which is today used for critical missions like early missile warning and weather observations, unusable.

“We have much more to lose in GEO than any other country,” said Kaitlyn Johnson, an associate fellow who specialises in space security at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. “We wouldn’t want to have a first strike capability.”

Chinese military units are training with missiles that could destroy satellites. Photo: Reuters
Chinese military units are training with missiles that could destroy satellites. Photo: Reuters

Military experts also worry that China could try to seize areas of the moon that contain strategic resources including ice that could be used for rocket fuel or life support.

But they say it is much more likely China will want to use dominance in space to influence conflicts on Earth. For instance, being able to threaten the military’s GPS or communications satellites might deter the US from getting involved in a conflict in the South China Sea, Weeden said.

The US Space Force is intended to close some of those gaps by grouping space assets together to build expertise and giving the new service autonomy over its budget requests. One of the biggest goals of the new branch is to speed up space acquisitions, allowing new technology to be fielded faster, and to develop a space “doctrine” that would oversee how the US fights conflicts when space platforms are at stake.

China adds new satellite to rival US global positioning system

The Chinese government insists that it is merely responding to aggressive US moves to dominate space militarily. Qiao called it “bullying and hegemonic” for the United States to insist that other countries cannot follow suit.

“The US space troops have long existed,” he said. “They just did not become an independent force … moreover, the US possessed anti-satellite capabilities as early as the 1970s and 1980s. China only developed anti-satellite capabilities at the end of the 1990s and even in the first decade of this century.”

China had little choice but to enhance its capabilities, he said.

“China’s purpose to develop space capabilities, firstly, is we do not want to be blackmailed by others,” Qiao said in the interview. “Second, we hope to use space peacefully. But if others want to oppress us by occupying the heights of space and opening up a ‘fourth battlefield’, China will certainly not accept it.”

Qiao Liang, a major general in the Chinese air force, says it is “bullying and hegemonic” for the United States to insist other countries cannot develop a space force. Photo: Handout
Qiao Liang, a major general in the Chinese air force, says it is “bullying and hegemonic” for the United States to insist other countries cannot develop a space force. Photo: Handout

Still, China remained far from surpassing US dominance, he said. “We cannot overtake the US in the next decade or two, but we will narrow the gap in a comprehensive way. And it is possible we may take the lead in some individual areas.”

Weeden agreed.

“China is developing many of the same space capabilities the US did decades ago, while the US is focused on sustaining its capabilities and making them more resilient,” he said.

“On the whole, the US is still far more capable than China is but the relative advantage is narrowing.”

What is space junk and why is it a problem?

The two nations have some diplomatic channels through which they could cooperate in space, including the United Nations’ Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, of which both are members. In 2015, the Obama administration established a dialogue with China on space safety, which is quietly continuing under Trump, although Weeden said the meetings were mostly high-level talks.

But the Wolf Amendment, which was first passed in a Congressional appropriations bill in 2011, forbids the US government from working with China and prohibits any bilateral cooperation between the China National Space Administration and the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration on national security grounds. And there is virtually no collaboration between the militaries of the two nations today.

To open the door for conversations that could ease tensions and avoid miscommunication, the US and China must “crawl before we walk”, Audrey Schaffer, the director of space strategy and plans at the defence department, said at a March event on US-China space relations hosted by the Secure World Foundation.

Some potential first steps include the two countries sharing information like their national defence strategies, providing launch notifications of space vehicles or opening routine, secure communications channels between diplomats. Each step would help build trust and transparency, Schaffer said, pointing to the strong relationship between the US and Russia in space as evidence that it could be done.

“Even then when the relationship was just as strained, if not more so, we did manage to work bilaterally and multilaterally with the Soviets to really create mechanisms that would help reduce the risks of conflict and enhance stability,” Schaffer said.

Source: SCMP


China to send defence minister to Singapore security conference as tensions with US rise

  • Observers will be watching to see if General Wei Fenghe holds talks with his American counterpart
  • Forum comes as Beijing and Washington are at odds over issues ranging from security to trade
General Wei Fenghe will be the first Chinese defence minister to attend the Shangri-La Dialogue in eight years. Photo: Reuters
General Wei Fenghe will be the first Chinese defence minister to attend the Shangri-La Dialogue in eight years. Photo: Reuters
China is sending its defence minister to a leading Asian security forum next week, the first time in eight years that a high-ranking Chinese general will represent the country at the conference.
General Wei Fenghe, a State Councillor and China’s defence minister, will speak at the three-day Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, a gathering that comes as Beijing and Washington are at odds over issues ranging from security to trade.
“In a highly anticipated speech, General Wei Fenghe will speak on China’s role in the Indo-Pacific at a pivotal time for the region,” the International Institute for Strategic Studies, an organiser of the conference, said on Monday night.

Chinese military sources said that Wei would lead a “relatively big” delegation to the gathering, which starts on May 31 and is co-organised by the Singaporean government.

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