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China’s Rogue Fireworks

China’s president, Hu Jintao, is currently touring Africa, seeking to secure dependable sources of natural resources, but also to promote China’s “peaceful rise.” Such tours are designed to give notice that China is emerging on the world stage, as well as to make it look respectable as a major world power. But China’s quest for international respect is not well served by its embrace of rogue nations like Sudan, Venezuela, and Burma, much less by its secretive military build-up and its recent adventure in outer space.

Indeed, when the Chinese military secretly and recklessly fired a land-based missile into outer space in mid-January and shattered one of China’s aging satellites, the government caused outrage from London to Tokyo to Washington. After several days of silence in the face of incontrovertible evidence of the launch, China’s leaders reluctantly admitted what China had done, but claimed that the “test was not directed at any country and does not constitute a threat to any country.”

Such denials are becoming unconvincing. In fact, this dangerous and irresponsible action is yet another key sign that China’s rise as a global power lacks any guarantee that it will be a peaceful nation once it grows strong. It flatly contradicts the repeated assurances of China’s leaders that China’s rise will bring only “harmony” and peace to the international community.

Lurking behind China’s ambition in space is the spirit of the Cold War, which continues to permeate the inner circles of the military high command, whose adversary is unmistakably the United States. With the collapse of the Soviet communist regime, the US continues to enjoy a dominant role in space exploration for peaceful and scientific development. But since the 1980’s, the US has been ambivalent about the ultimate military and civilian utility of its space efforts.