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SPECIAL REPORT: China: The Rising Threat

By | November 5, 2007

      Defense Secretary Gates In China To Question Chinese Military Buildup

      Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates is in China, where he will attempt to get Chinese leaders to explain why Beijing is plunging ahead on a gigantic military modernization program with global reach.

      Gates also is expected to seek Chinese cooperation in a push for new sanctions on Iran, which is developing missiles with steadily longer ranges. Iran also is refusing to halt production of nuclear materials that Western leaders fear may be used to build atomic bombs. (Please see separate stories in this issue.)

      China has significantly increased its military budget, upping it to an official announced level equivalent to $44 billion — analysts estimate actual spending by the secretive military may be two to three times that amount — and U.S. officials said they would like more details on Chinese military strategy.

      "Building military capabilities is fine, but it would serve the interests of peace if they would say how they expect to use these capabilities," said a U.S. official, speaking not for attribution. "We would like to encourage the Chinese to be more transparent."

      China said it is focused on Taiwan, an island nation that the Chinese have threatened to invade if it doesn’t submit soon, voluntarily, to Chinese rule. But much of the hardware China is buying would seem to be overkill for any invasion of Taiwan, a small island realm with weak defenses.

      The American delegations will seek more military exercises, more exchanges of military students and leaders and more military-to-military contacts at all levels, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.

      Gates is prepared to speak with the Chinese about Iranian nuclear ambitions, moves with North Korea and the war on terror. North Korea also is developing longer-range missiles, and has tested a nuclear weapon, detonating it underground.

      The U.S. delegation expects the Chinese to bring up Taiwan — especially with the independence referendum on the ballot soon. President Bush has said the United States is against independence for the island nation. But the United States also is committed to defend Taiwan if it is attacked.

      Gates will spend two days in China then move to South Korea for talks. He ends his Asian trip with a stop in Japan for talks with civilian and military leaders.

      Chinese Leader Hu Exhorts Missile Troops To Improve

      People’s Liberation Army missile forces must improve themselves "quickly and well," Chinese President Hu Jintao said, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

      He spoke as he participated in the Communist Party congress, directing his remarks at the Second Artillery Force (SAF) that operates both conventional and nuclear-tipped Chinese missiles.

      China recently has introduced road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles with a range able to strike targets in the United States.

      Hu told the SAF to "spare no effort" in their missions, praising the SAF because it has "speeded up its modernization process," according to Xinhua. He urged further improvements in capabilities.

      China has some 900 short- and medium-range missiles aimed at the waters separating the mainland from Taiwan, an island nation which China has vowed to invade and conquer unless it voluntarily submits to rule by Beijing. The United States, however, is committed to defend Taiwan from Chinese aggression, and urges China to refrain from violence.

      Xinhua noted that China treats its missile forces as elite warfighters who are considered "talents … special personnel."

      China To Develop New Lifters For Space Program

      China plans to develop a new family of lifters by 2012 – 2013 to boost satellites and even space stations into orbit, official Chinese media reported.

      That announcement came as China guided a spacecraft into lunar orbit today. (Please see separate story in this issue.)

      Called Long March 5 rockets, the new lifters would have greater payload capacity to boost communications satellites, lunar spacecraft or other space vehicles.

      Those rockets will be produced in the northeastern port city of Tianjin, and will be launched from Hainan Island.

      That is the island where China held two dozen U.S. Navy men and women in uniform prisoner in 2001, after a Chinese fighter plane crashed into their U.S. intelligence aircraft peacefully patrolling in international airspace. When the American service personnel attempted to land their crippled plane in an emergency-distress-signal maneuver, China ignored the distress call, took them prisoner and ransacked the plane looking for U.S. intelligence secrets.

      The heavy-lift rockets will, of course, be heavy, so they will be transported to the launch facility by sea instead of overland.

      If China has sufficiently powerful rockets by 2012 or 2013 that can power spacecraft for manned missions to the moon, that will occur as the United States space program is grounded.

      U.S. space shuttles will be retired in 2010, and the next-generation U.S. spacecraft system Orion-Ares won’t begin flying to low Earth orbit until 2015. Any U.S. mission to the moon won’t come until the end of the next decade.

      China Sees Its Chang’e-1 Spacecraft Begin To Orbit Moon

      The Chinese spacecraft Chang’e-1 fired deceleration rockets and eased into an orbit around the moon today, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

      That deceleration burn was commanded by the Beijing Aerospace Control Center.

      Without deceleration, the spacecraft would zoom past the moon instead of heading into the desired orbital path.

      Chang’e-1, named after a legendary Chinese goddess who flew to the moon, blasted off on a Long March 3A carrier rocket Oct. 24 from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwestern Sichuan Province.

      The probe completed its fourth orbital transfer late Wednesday afternoon, shifting out of its 120,000-kilometer orbit around the Earth and moving toward a 380,000-kilometer circumlunar orbit.

      BACC successfully carried out an orbital correction for Chang’e-1 Friday morning to ensure that it travels on the pre-set orbit.

      A second orbital correction scheduled for Sunday morning was called off because it was unnecessary, since Chang’e-1 was running accurately on the expected trajectory, a BACC scientist said.

      After the probe entered the moon’s orbit, it would brake several more times to slow down, scientists have said.

      It is scheduled to relay the first picture of the moon late next month, and would then continue scientific explorations of the moon for a year.

      The 2,350-kg (5,181 pounds) satellite carried eight probing facilities, including a stereo camera and interferometer, an imager and gamma/x-ray spectrometer, a laser altimeter, a microwave detector, a high energy solar particle detector and a low energy ion detector.

      It will fulfill four scientific objectives, including a three-dimensional survey of the moon’s surface, analysis of the abundance and distribution of elements on lunar surface, an investigation of the characteristics of lunar regolith and the powdery soil layer on the surface, and an exploration of the circumstance between the earth and the moon.

      Japan just recently put its own spacecraft into lunar orbit, and India plans to follow suit next April, as the Asian space race becomes heated.

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