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Analyst Urges More Diplomacy With China, But Says It Is Credible, Growing Threat

By | February 18, 2008

      The United States should use more diplomacy with China in matters involving space, and should ease back on the U.S. stance opposing cooperation with China, according to Gregory Kulacki, with the Global Security Program of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

      At the same time, however, he acknowledged that the rapidly-rising military buildup directed by Beijing means that China constitutes "a real, credible and growing threat" to the U.S. military. "I don’t want anybody to walk away [from his comments] thinking I’m saying China is not a threat."

      The point here is that the United States must choose the correct way to respond to burgeoning Chinese might, and reconsider "how to manage this military modernization program that China is going through," Kulacki said. He spoke at a forum organized by the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank, where he counseled use of non-military steps of threat management.

      Rather than stiff-arming China and rejecting it, the United States should work with China, Kulacki said. "We’re neglecting diplomacy, dialogue" and similar moves, he said, which can be used as tools of threat management.

      He was responding to a question from Space & Missile Defense Report, asking whether the United States can reason with China when it is buying cutting-edge fighter aircraft and bombers, advanced Sovremenny Class Russian destroyers, eight different classes of submarines including the nuclear-propelled Jin Class with nuclear-tipped missiles that have a range of almost 5,000 miles, 1,300 missiles aimed toward Taiwan, and an intercontinental ballistic missile that now can hit Alaska and Hawaii and soon will be upgraded so that it can hit Washington, D.C., or New York City.

      When U.S. military and civilian leaders ask Chinese officials why they are buying all of this cutting-edge, advanced and often long-range military hardware, they may say China wishes to take Taiwan by force (that island is just 100 miles from the Chinese mainland coast), or they speak vaguely of guarding sea lanes.

      Kulacki sees palpable tension and suspicion between China and the United States, with each nation viewing the space program of the other with paranoia or hostility.

      The United States fears that China will go to the moon before American astronauts return there at the end of the next decade, and take down the American flags that Apollo astronauts planted there, Kulacki said.

      But Chinese leaders see the United States as wanting to fight wars in space, he said.

      "There is an enormous disconnect with the way this is perceived in China and the way this is perceived in the United States," he said, referring to a Chinese and Russian proposal last week for a treaty banning weapons in space, and violence against spacecraft such as satellites.

      While China may see such a treaty as worthwhile, the United States will oppose it as an attempt to bind and hamstring U.S. options in space, according to Jeffrey Lewis, director of the New America Foundation, who moderated the forum.

      "There is zero chance" that the United States will accept and sign that draft treaty, Lewis predicted. And this is an enduring American position. Not only does President Bush oppose such treaties, but former President Clinton was not enthusiastic about such suggestions, either, according to Lewis.

      That Sino-Russian treaty proposal came just days before the United States announced it will use a ballistic missile defense system to knock down a nonfunctional U.S. intelligence satellite, to prevent the satellite and its toxic fuel load from landing in a populated area. (Please see full story in this issue.)

      China sees the United States as hypocritical, Kulacki indicated, because U.S. officials condemned China harshly for obliterating one of its aging weather satellites with a hit from a ground-based missile. The key difference, however, is that China did its shot in secret, and created dangerous space debris that will be a hazard to spacecraft in orbit for decades, while debris from the U.S. ASAT shot will disappear swiftly, within weeks, and the U.S. officials have announced the ASAT shot in advance.

      "There’s a lot of mistrust and bad feeling" between the two nuclear powers, Kulacki said.

      While many U.S. military and civilian officials, and private analysts, see China as taking deliberate steps to be able to fight U.S. forces on the sea, in the air and in space and cyberspace, Kulacki questioned whether that is a reasonable position.

      Rather, he argued, China is acquiring state-of-the-art military platforms because "they believe any advanced country must acquire" them. At another point, he said, "It’s a quest for respect."

      The Sino procurement program is "not driven by policies or actions [related to] any potential adversary," such as the United States, he said.

      While the United States in space is cutting off cooperation with China, that won’t prevent Beijing from proceeding with plans to become the satellite-launch provider of choice for the developing world, Kulacki said.

      "The United States might want to at least reconsider its policy of isolation" of China, he said.

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