Space: U.S. and China's Thaw Up There


October 26, 2005: The U.S. and China military establishments are starting to cooperate more readily, after about four years of chilly relations brought on by the mid-air collision of a U.S. Navy P-3 Orion surveillance plane and a Chinese fighter on April 1, 2001. The incident over international waters resulted in the death of Chinese fighter pilot. The 24 member crew of the surveillance plane was detained for 11 days by Chinese authorities, after the P-3 made an emergency landing on Hainan Island.

China accepted a U.S. offer for North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) to track the two-man Shenzou 6 spacecraft during its October 12 flight. NORAD offered its assistance to help the second Chinese space flight avoid other spacecraft and - more importantly - in-orbit space debris. NORAD performs the same "overwatch" role for U.S. Space Shuttle flights and the on-going International Space Station effort, as well as watching all objects in orbit that may threaten U.S. military satellites, ranging from satellites to space junk such as burnt-out rocket boosters and loose floating bolts. China passed along launch and expected orbital parameters to NORAD to support the effort.

The following week (October 17), Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited China to tour military installations and make a speech to mid-career Communist Party officials being groomed for senior leadership positions. In carefully phrased language, the Secretary critiqued Bejing's military expansion while also offering China the opportunity to build a political, military, and economic partnership with the United States. He also met with China's President and its Defense Minister. The visit comes a month ahead of a visit from the U.S. President.

However, he didn't get everything he wanted. The Secretary wanted to visit the China's "Pentagon," the Western Hills military complex outside of Bejing, but was denied. Instead, he was the first American defense official to visit the headquarters of China's strategic military fleet. - Doug Mohney



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