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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 February 2007, 16:23 GMT
Fears over China military build-up
By Daniel Griffiths
BBC News, Beijing

Chinese government illustration of Feng Yun 1C satellite
The missile test was carried out in late January
China's recent missile test has raised fears about the country's growing military capabilities.

The US and other nations all voiced their concerns about an arms race in space. There were also complaints from neighbours like Japan and Taiwan who worry about China's military power.

So why the fuss?

After all, the technology that China used to blast the ageing weather satellite out of the sky was not new: the US and the former Soviet Union had it 20 years ago.

And Beijing says that it only has peaceful intentions in space.

'Wake-up call'

But the test clearly demonstrates that China can compete in space - even though it is still a long way behind the US.

China's first manned space mission launched in 2003 - following former Soviet Union and the US
Chinese astronauts aim to perform a spacewalk as early as next year
Until now, the US and Russia have been the only nations to shoot down space objects
China insists its space programme is of no threat, but other nations are wary
China says it spends $500m on space projects. NASA is due to spend $17bn in 2007

And that is enough to get Washington worried.

Senior Republican Senator Jon Kyl has called the test a "wake-up call" that underlined the vulnerability of US security and communications satellites in space.

China has already had two successful manned space missions and is planning a third, with long-term plans to eventually put a Chinese astronaut on the moon.

But its military space programme is top secret, with only a few senior government and army officials in the loop. That partly explains the long silence in Beijing after the January test - not everyone knew what was going on.

Military build-up

Regardless of who knew what and when, the test has once again underlined the growing power of China's armed forces.

Chinese soldiers. File photo
China says it spent $36bn on its armed forces in 2006

China wants a powerful military to match its powerful economy.

Beijing may be a nuclear power with the world's largest army, but much of its military hardware is outdated. So it has been spending vast amounts of money to modernise its military.

Last year, China claimed to have spent $36bn (18bn) on its armed forces. But the US and other observers believe that the actual figure may be two to three times that amount.

Beijing has defended this increase saying that its military spending is still only a fraction of the US defence budget.

China's bill comes to about 1.5% of its gross domestic product in 2006 - compared with US spending which is more than 6% of GDP.

'Lagging behind'

On top of that, China's military still lags well behind the US armed forces.

For example, the country's naval capability is still extremely limited, making it unable to project its power beyond coastal regions.

It still does not have an aircraft carrier, although one is now thought to be in development.

But that has not stopped the US and neighbours like Japan, India and Taiwan worrying about China's growing military strength.

Taiwan recently claimed that China now has 900 missiles pointing at the island.

Beijing considers Taiwan a renegade province and has threatened to use force if the island declares formal independence.

'Responsible player'

China has been quick to try to ease fears in Washington and other capitals, saying that its rise is a peaceful one that does not present a threat to any other country.

Beijing claims it is a responsible global player, and has regularly contributed troops and personnel to UN peacekeeping missions.

But at the same time it continues to isolate Taiwan, and still deals with so-called rogue states like Iran and North Korea.

Relations with Japan have only just started to recover after years in the deep freeze, following disagreements over Tokyo's attitude towards its wartime past.

In Washington, there are plenty of hawks who talk of an arms race with China in the years ahead.

While that is the case, it is likely that China's military build-up will still be regarded with suspicion in many parts of the world, regardless of Beijing's protests to the contrary.

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