China’s routine space vehicle test ‘a transparent act for peaceful use, not militarization’
Published: Oct 18, 2021 09:49 PM
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian

The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Monday said the Financial Times-reported "China's test of new space capability with a hypersonic missile in August" was in fact a routine test of technology for reusing a space vehicle, and Chinese experts said that China has the right to test such technology for peaceful purpose regardless of how the US or the West demonizes it. If the US launches a space arms race, non-Western powers like China and Russia would be forced to turn their advanced capabilities into military use for strategic deterrence and self-defense, experts said. 

Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a routine press conference on Monday that such a test is meant to lower the cost of using a space vehicle, and it can provide more low-cost measures for the peaceful use of space.

Many companies in the world have conducted similar tests," and after separating from the space vehicle before its return, the supporting devices will burn up when it's falling in the atmosphere and the debris will fall into the high seas, said Zhao.

China will make joint efforts with all other countries on the peaceful use of space to benefit humanity, Zhao noted.

On Sunday, the FT reported that "China tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile in August that circled the globe before speeding towards its target, demonstrating an advanced space capability that caught US intelligence by surprise." 

The FT interviewed "five people familiar with the test" and they said "the Chinese military launched a rocket that carried a hypersonic glide vehicle which flew in low-orbit space before cruising towards its target," and "the missile missed its target by about two dozen miles, according to three people briefed on the intelligence." 

But two said "the test showed that China had made astounding progress in hypersonic weapons and was far more advanced than US officials realized."

The FT report suggests that China is using space for military purposes but the report was based on anonymous sources and without evidence. Chinese experts said that the West is getting nervous as they have underestimated China's space capability for a very long time. So when China shows its advanced space technology - even though it's for peaceful use - some Western media will try to hype the "China threat theory," because they believe that as long as non-Western countries acquire advanced space technology, the US' hegemony  in using space for non-peaceful purposes will be threatened. 

Huang Zhicheng, a senior expert on aerospace science and technology, told the Global Times that the reusable spacecraft technology will reduce the cost of transportation from Earth to space, and some companies exploring the possibility of suborbital space tourism and developing new technology for the future of the civil aviation transportation industry are investing in the Earth-space reusable spacecraft.

Wang Zhicheng said the US uses Western media to hype the test and spread the "China threat theory" so that they can win support to increase its defense budget to develop space weapons.

"After China displayed the DF-17 missile during the military parade in 2019, some US elites believe that China has taken the lead in hypersonic weapons development, and within the US, developing hypersonic weapons is a controversial issue, so they might want to exaggerate that China makes progress in developing such a weapon in order to unify their public opinion within the US," Wang noted.

"It is normal for China to test such reusable spacecraft technology, and common for such spacecraft to shed parts such as boosters when the main capsule re-enters the atmosphere.  Based on the Foreign Ministry's statement, the purpose of such a study is for the peaceful use of space," as it's a reusable space vehicle, not a missile that needs to hit a target, said Song Zhongping, a military expert and TV commentator.

Song noted that by releasing the information about the test, China has also shown its transparency in making such a test for the peaceful use of space, and China has the confidence to refute the rumors that suggest China is militarizing space. 

The US is the one who started an arms race and militarization of space. The US has established the United States Space Force as its space service branch of the US Armed Forces, one of the eight US uniformed services, in 2019, which openly militarizes space.

Wang Ya'nan, chief editor of the Beijing-based Aerospace Knowledge magazine, told the Global Times on Monday that "the US had used a reusable spacecraft such as the space shuttle for military purposes, and the US also considers its X-37B craft an important weapon to rapidly develop a military force." 

"The West led by the US would often hype and smear China's breakthrough as militarization because they see all breakthroughs done by non-Western countries as a threat. This is meant for a technology monopoly, which is unfair to other countries. This mindset serves only Western-dominated hegemony," Wang noted.

China will not compromise on such an unreasonable and unfair logic by some Westerners, and will keep making efforts to push its own development and research for the peaceful use of space. This does not only serve China's national interests, but also the interests of all countries to fairly enjoy the use and exploration of space, to break the unfair monopoly that the US wants to build, said a Beijing-based expert on space affairs who requested anonymity.  

Wang said that on the use of space vehicles, China is still far behind the US. At least at this stage, China has no intention and ability to launch an arms race with the US. But in the future, under pressure from the US, or after the US has militarized its use of space to threaten China's national security, China would be forced to turn its advanced space technologies into military use.

Experts said that non-Western major powers like China and Russia would be forced to join the arms race started by the US for self-defense and to deter the US from using its technologies to attack China and Russia. 

In September 2020, China successfully tested a reusable spacecraft. The Xinhua News Agency reported that the spacecraft was successfully launched on September 4, 2020 from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, which has witnessed multiple milestones in the country's manned space exploration. The carrier rocket was the Long March-2F, the "go-to" launch vehicle for China's manned space projects.