Decades after the end of the space race, it is time for a new competition over the final frontier. US President Donald Trump signed the US Space Force into law Dec. 23, officially inaugurating the newest branch of the US armed forces: Space Force. Although Washington celebrated the ceremonious occasion, Beijing was not as joyous.
Geng Shuang, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, condemned the action, telling reporters his government was “resolutely opposed” to the creation of the US Space Force.
“The relevant U.S. actions are a serious violation of the international consensus on the peaceful use of outer space, undermine global strategic balance and stability, and pose a direct threat to outer space peace and security,” he said.
China’s Plans to Control Space
The Chinese government is against the idea of America’s newest military branch, but considering that Beijing is generally set against anything coming out of Washington, that is of little surprise. Geng’s declaration that Space Force is detrimental to the sanctity of outer space is also hypocritical given Beijing’s actions. At no point during his press briefing did Geng mention the Chinese destruction of a satellite via missile in 2007, an event that helped prompt an American response to secure space. Vice President Mike Pence even cited it as a reason for expanding America’s military presence in August 2018.
“Our adversaries have transformed space into a war-fighting domain already. And the United States will not shrink from this challenge,” Pence said at the Pentagon in 2018. “In 2007, China launched a missile that tracked and destroyed one of its own satellites—a highly provocative demonstration of China’s growing capability to militarize space.”
A 2015 defense white paper from Beijing detailed plans on capitalizing on control of space and it was from this report that China created the People’s Liberation Army Strategic Support Force (PLASSF), an organization tasked with electromagnetic spectrum, space, and cyberspace, essentially any aspect of unconventional warfare.
In 2017, the Secure World Foundation published an analysis titled “Global Counterspace Capabilities: An Open Source Assessment.” The research and evidence behind the report heavily implicate China as making a massive push for space dominance. Sources with firsthand knowledge of operations at PLASSF said the military branch has an objective of “ensuring one’s ability to fully use space while at the same time limiting, weakening, and destroying an adversary’s space forces.”
China is not the sole aggressor on this new battlefield, either. According to Pence Russia is hard at work creating a laser to target satellites and missiles launched from the air that could reach outer space.
The US Military Is Fully Onboard With Space Force
These developments gave all the justification needed for the Trump administration to roll out its vision for protecting US satellites. When weighed against the two alternatives—leaving space defenseless or under the Air Force umbrella—the decision to create the Space Force seemed like an easy choice, especially as it opens up the door to pour more of the US budget into defense spending.
When Trump first floated the idea of Space Force, it was met with apprehension and derision. The name alone sounds like something from science fiction. Air Force Gen. John W. Raymond, Space Force commander, validated the need for it, however.
“I can tell you from my perspective, the scope, scale and complexity of that threat is alive and well and very concerning,” Raymond said, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Nov. 18. Raymond called for rapid development of both offensive and defensive weapons for use in space, something he revealed the Pentagon has already begun pursuing.
Washington is finally taking space seriously and Beijing does not approve. For China, however, it is a “rules for thee, but not for me” mentality. Just as it publicly denies its genocide against Uighurs and the Tiananmen Square massacre, the truth is often the opposite of what Beijing says. Its calls for a peaceful space should be interpreted as cynical cover of its own intention to control and weaponize space.