WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military painted China on Tuesday as posing a growing threat to the United States and others in space and cyberspace.
China is "aggressively" honing its ability to shoot down satellites along with other space and counter-space capabilities, said Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Horne of the U.S. Strategic Command.
Such know-how has big implications for Beijing's potential to curb access in the Taiwan Straits "and well beyond," he told the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a congressionally created advisory group.
Horne, deputy head of the Strategic Command's joint component for space, said recent Chinese People's Liberation Army writings suggested China might target an enemy's spy satellites along with navigation and early-warning spacecraft "to blind and deafen."
China's unannounced destruction of one of its own defunct weather satellites in January 2007 showed the PLA's ability to attack satellites operating in low-Earth orbit, he said.
The United States and the old Soviet Union demonstrated such anti-satellite capabilities of their own, initially in the 1980s. The Chinese embassy did not return a call seeking comment.
Horne did not spell out the implications for possible U.S. responses to any Chinese attack on Taiwan but said the United States must "proactively protect our space capabilities."
Among arms makers eyeing this market are Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman, the Pentagon's top three contractors by sales.
Beijing regards Taiwan, a self-ruled island of 23 million people, as a breakaway province to be brought back to the fold, by force if necessary.
Another Strategic Command officer described cyber attacks as perhaps the most significant 21st century threat and said China was boosting its capability to carry them out.
Col. Gary McAlum of the command's Joint Task Force for Global Network Operations said several Chinese advances had surprised U.S. defence and intelligence officials.
He cited a new report by Kevin Coleman of the Technolytics Institute, a McMurray, Pennsylvania, consultancy, as saying China aims to achieve global "electronic dominance" by 2050, including the ability to disrupt information infrastructures.
"I think we could discuss that date offline," McAlum told the commissioners, seeming to imply he thought China might get there sooner than mid-century. Coleman is a former chief strategist of the Netscape division of America Online Inc.
One U.S. expert countered, in a telephone interview, that it would be odd to expect China to sit still if it perceived a threat to its strategic weapons and communications in any future conflict.
"It is unreasonable to think that Beijing will permanently accept vulnerability," said David Lampton of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and author of the new book "The Three Faces of Chinese Power: Might, Money, and Minds."
In a third presentation to the commissioners, a State Department official described China's nonproliferation record as mixed.
Chinese companies have kept on shipping weapons to Iran, despite evidence Tehran is supplying insurgents in Iraq and Islamist groups, said Patricia McNerney, principal deputy assistant secretary for international security and nonproliferation.
But she praised two big Chinese companies sanctioned repeatedly in the past by the United States for alleged violations of international arms-export pacts.
McNerney said the United States had conferred with the two -- China North Industries Corp, or NORINCO, and China Great Wall Industries Co. Their response has been "very encouraging," she said.
"Both companies have adopted comprehensive internal compliance programs and are implementing policies to ensure that inadvertent transactions do not occur," she testified.
NORINCO, for example, had committed to not selling arms to North Korea and Iran and claims to have turned down more than $100 million (50 million pounds) in potential contracts with such governments, McNerney added.
Editing by Andre Grenon