China’s somewhat schizophrenic diplomatic PR efforts took an interesting turn yesterday when a top military commander indicated for the first time publicly that the country planned to put weapons in space.
The comments came as China prepares for a major show of its military prowess next week to mark 60 years since the Chinese air force was founded, and they were a distinct shift in tone from previous protestations that China is no threat in space.
Of course, this tack had already been somewhat undermined by the showy killing of one of its own satellites a couple of years back–a move that prompted widespread international criticism for adding huge amounts of dangerous debris to that already orbiting the earth and which poses a real hazard to satellites (including China’s own, presumably).
But the commander in question, Xu Qiliang, vowed that China’s air force will never be a threat to any other country, and the anniversary show of force will come in the same month as an international military forum themed ‘Harmonious Skies’ takes place in Beijing.
So what to make of it? A top US general has already said the United States needs to do a better job of understanding Chinese intentions. In the meantime, Chinese officials for their part would do well to keep in mind that international audiences consume an array of information sources, and won’t be making their judgements based only on the latest government press releases.