China Watches and Waits

May 3, 2010
Gregory Kulacki
China Project Manager

China’s reaction to the U.S. launch of the X-37B space plane has been more reserved than many American observers expected. This did not stop the usual set of Chinese military “experts” from pushing exaggerated and uninformed claims about U.S. intentions to an eager Chinese press. My personal favorite was a statement from PLAAF Colonel Dai Xu (in Chinese), described as a “well-known scholar of military strategy,” who informed his readers that the launch of the space plane was consistent with the intent of the movie Avatar, which “exposed America’s strategic thinking, which is to make the joint control of air and space with robots, attacking the surface, the most basic means of war fighting”.

A more thoughtful Chinese commentary (in Chinese), more consistent with China’s quarter-century quest for negotiations on space at the Conference on Disarmament, came from Prof. Zhao Kejin of Qinghua University’s Institute for International Studies. Zhao argued that China need not chase after the United States and develop their own space plane. He urged China to continue to pursue formal talks with the United States to prevent an arms race in space, beginning with the negotiation of a treaty prohibiting anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons.