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Thursday, 8 February 2007
Page: 8

Mr DANBY (12:45 PM) —Who rules in Beijing? It took China 12 days to admit that on 11 January it used a ballistic missile to destroy one of its own satellites. This is the first destruction of a satellite in space for more than 20 years and the first time any state has used a missile to kill a satellite. As the top Australian analyst Robyn Lim said:

We can only speculate about China’s motives and about whether the military informed the political leadership in advance. China seems to want to demonstrate to the United States that the cost of defending satellites will be much higher than the cost of shooting them down.

The US has not pursued antisatellite capabilities since the end of the Cold War. China’s capability puts at risk the world’s satellites, both military and commercial, and this disgraceful, aggressive missile adventure in space triggered a dangerous amount of space debris that can endanger other countries’ satellites, particularly commercial satellites.

This also has the effect of increasing nervousness in Japan—something Australia should be very concerned about. As Robyn Lim has argued:

How long will Japan remain willing to remain content to rely on the US missile defence and ‘nuclear umbrella’? …

Japan is already rattled by the dangerous nuclear and missile brinkmanship of North Korea, the quasi-ally that Beijing refuses to rein in. With China now challenging the US in high-tech areas … Japan will grow even more afraid. And if Japan starts to think it cannot afford to rely on the US nuclear umbrella and missile defence (which is defensive and non-nuclear), it might well conclude that it needs nuclear weapons for its security. That would set off a round of nuclear proliferation in North Asia as others (for example South Korea) followed suit.

This is a very dangerous test in space, but I want to focus on two points. Hitherto, China—at least its political leadership—has pursued a responsible relationship with the United States. There was a confidential agreement between the United States and China for joint space programs, including moon missions. They were agreed at the April 2006 summit between President Bush and the Chinese President, Hu Jintao. Successful Chinese destruction on 11 January of an old weather satellite, 530 miles above the earth, has undermined not just these agreements between the two political leaders but also the proposal of the Chinese National Space Administration Agency deputy head, Luo Ge, that China join the International Space Station.

Australia should be very much in favour of this kind of peaceful cooperation between China and the United States. I was very interested in the remarks of the Minister for Foreign Affairs at the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade yesterday when he agreed that there is strong reason for concern that there was apparently no knowledge in the Chinese foreign ministry about these kinds of missile tests and that perhaps people could make the interpretation that therefore the Chinese military is behind these aggressive military initiatives.

The satellite shoot-down is also a dangerous time because it comes at a time that is also the last year of the rule of Chen Shui-bian in Taiwan. Taiwan’s presidential election is due in 2008. At the same time there has also been a power shift in the American congress to the Democrats, who are much more critical of China than were the previous Republican majority. Our friends in Taiwan—and I count myself amongst them—should not see China’s desire to maintain its image during the Olympics as an opportunity to move towards increased progress and constitutional change by clarifying its boundaries. That would be very dangerous for international peace and security, particularly in North-East Asia. I particularly want to caution our friends in Taiwan not to use that opportunity, despite these consistent Chinese provocations.

I think China, by knocking out the satellite, moving J10 fighters to the Taiwan Strait and tailing a US carrier group with a Chinese submarine last year, is sending a message to the United States that intervention in Taiwan might not be as easy or as painless as it was in 1996. This is supposed to convince Washington that it needs to keep a tighter leash on Chen. Taiwan is an independent, democratic country. I believe that, if push came to shove, the majority of Australian people would always side with a democracy. But our friends in Taiwan need to be careful not to use the occasion of the Olympics to push constitutional rhetoric too far at the expense of their de facto independence. (Time expired)