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January 31, 2007

China space weapon test puts spotlight on trade deals

Posted by David Postman at 10:51 AM

Congressman Rick Larsen, D-Lake Stevens, will co-chair a briefing Friday on China's recent satellite-destroying missile test. It's also a test of sorts for the U.S.-China Working Group that Larsen co-founded 18 months ago as a way to "build diplomatic relations with China and to make the Congress more aware of U.S.-China issues."

The Chinese missile test has alarmed some in Congress and Larsen worries that could lead to trouble for U.S.-China trade. He told me:

"There are many relationships we have with China. Some of them are going very well and some of them are not. ... What a test like this does is give some members of Congress another reason to try to tighten the screws down on trade with China. And that isn't good for China, and I don't think it's good for the U.S. either. My personal view is that we need to engage China on all fronts."

Soon after the Chinese test, Larsen and co-chairman Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., convened the bipartisan working group in a closed session for a briefing from U.S. intelligence officials. Friday they will hear in open session from a panel of academics.

It's the sort of issue the working group was formed to deal with. There are about 48 members, Democrats and Republicans, with varying views on China. Larsen is a strong proponent of trade with China. And with a Boeing plant in his district that's no surprise. But the working group is not all free-traders, he said.

"We don't have a litmus test for members. We have members who are strictly focused on the military relationship who are hawkish and some are focused on human rights. We're not panda huggers or dragon slayers."

In a trip to China last year Kirk and Larsen visited the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. Not many outsiders have seen the remote spaceport and the trip attracted attention from those who watch space developments. Back in D.C., Kirk and Larsen made a joint appearance at the Center for Strategic and International Studies where Kirk said:

I would just say, my impression is the military developments in
space by China are profound and not well understood by the West.

Already critics of free trade with China have suggested the space weapon test calls for a rethinking of the U.S. economic relationship with China. At the American Spectator, Ralph Reiland closed a recent critique of free trade with this:

Still, we're getting better-than-ever bargains on those white-wire reindeer at Wal-Mart, except it's China that's getting the money. And the Chinese just conducted a satellite-killing missile test, successfully, on Jan. 12. In theory, it's all okay, i.e., economically efficient, unless they nuke us.

The China test didn't create huge headlines in the United States, in part because news in Iraq and of the Democratic takeover of D.C. was dominating media coverage. But it worried Japan, prompted calls for space treaties, a more aggressive U.S. military presence in space, as well as a warning about anti-satellite, or ASAT, weapons from the Union of Concerned Scientists:

Moreover, the development and use of ASAT weapons threatens to undermine relationships and fuel military tensions between space faring nations.

The response by the Bush administration has generally been described as muted, both what came from military officials and diplomats.

Underlining the complicated politics of U.S.-China relations, Larsen supports the administration's response, while a leading Republican say it fell far short of what was needed.

Said Larsen:

"What the administration has done is express our concern that this test took place, express our concern about the way this took place and that it was inconsistent with our efforts to encourage the Chinese military to be transparent. They also said it's inconsistent with China's publicly-stated policies about peaceful uses of space. These are the kinds of messages the U.S. rightly needs to communicate to the Chinese."

On Monday Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., gave a speech at the Heritage Foundation where he criticized some Democrat's response, but said the Bush administration response missed the point of the test and showed a "level of confusion in our government." During a Q & A, Kyl said:

Since the test was reported, there has been no public statement by the president or any cabinet official, no mentioned during the State of the Union speech, no congressional hearings have yet been scheduled, no indication has come out of the Pentagon that the space budget is being in any way revisited.

The State Department has provided no specific information about what our diplomats are or are not saying in response to the Chinese provocation.

Kyl wants congressional hearings to determine if any U.S. technology is being used in China's space missile program. And if it is, he wants tighter export controls on that technology. (You can watch his speech here.)

Kyl also was critical of some U.S. businesses doing China trade. He said that in pushing for fewer export restrictions on technology, American businesses become lobbyists for the Communist Chinese regime:

During debate on technology transfer, for example, many American business constituents came to my office, arguing the Chinese point of view, that there should be relatively unlimited tech transfer, arguing against limitations.

And some made it quite clear that a condition to their ability to do business in China was to successfully change American policy. And therefore they became the lobbyists for the Chinese government, in effect, to try to change that policy.

Larsen hopes to protect trade with China. But he worries over the effect of the missile test and is critical of a lack of openness on China's part.

"If the Chinese were hoping to get our attention with this test, they did and it may not be the attention they wanted. From a defense perspective we have pushed China to be more transparent with its military modernization and its military budget so we can understand their capability, of course, but also their intentions.

"This military test occurred and the foreign ministry is itself silent for 10 days. That's a problem. That's a problem for us and it becomes a problem for the Chinese because it begins to run counter to their recent efforts to try to be transparent."

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