London, Feb 3: The US threatened to take military action against China during a secret "star wars" arms race in the past few years, according to leaked documents obtained by The Daily Telegraph.
The two nuclear powers both shot down their own satellites using sophisticated missiles in separate show of strength, the files released by WikiLeaks suggest. The newspaper, which published a total of 550 leaked US embassy cables in the last three days, said the US government was so incensed by Chinese actions in space that it privately warned Beijing it would face military action if it did not desist.
The Chinese carried out further tests as recently as last year, leading to further protests from Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, the documents reveal.
Beijing justified its actions by accusing the Americans of developing an "offensive" laser weapon system that would have the capability of destroying missiles before they left enemy territory.
According to the newspaper, the "star wars" arms race began in January 2007 when China shocked the White House by shooting down one of its weather satellite, 530 miles above the Earth.
The strike, which resulted in thousands of pieces of debris orbiting the earth, raised fears that the Chinese had the power to cause chaos by destroying US military and civilian satellites.
In February 2008, the US launched its own "test" strike to destroy a malfunctioning American satellite, which demonstrated to the Chinese it also had the capability to strike in space.
One month before the strike, the US criticised Beijing for launching its own "anti-satellite test", noting: "The United States has not conducted an anti-satellite test since 1985."
In a formal diplomatic protest, officials working for Condoleezza Rice, the then Secretary of State, told Beijing: "A Chinese attack on a satellite using a weapon launched by a ballistic missile threatens to destroy space systems that the United States and other nations use for commerce and national security. Destroying satellites endangers people.”
The warning said any purposeful interference with US space systems "will be interpreted by the United States as an infringement of its rights and considered an escalation in a crisis or conflict."
"The United States reserves the right, consistent with the UN Charter and international law, to defend and protect its space systems with a wide range of options, from diplomatic to military."
The Chinese strike in 2007 was highly controversial, prompting criticism from other nations and claims that it marked a revival of former US President Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" programme, that was abandoned in the 1980s, the newspaper reported in its lead story today. PTI