Why would the regime that runs China, which restricts both the foreign and domestic travel of its own people, insist on building rocket ships to send members of the People's Liberation Army into space?
Unravel this riddle wrapped in a mystery, to paraphrase Churchill, and you will discover the secret at the center of one of the greatest security risks facing the United States in the coming decades.
Chinese leaders explaining their space program sound like the belligerent FBI agent played by Sandra Bullock who goes undercover as a beauty pageant contestant in the movie "Miss Congeniality." Asked her hopes for the future by the pageant emcee, the FBI beauty queen says, "That there would be harsher penalties for parole offenders, Stan . . . and world peace."
Just before China's first manned rocket blasted off, Communist Party General Secretary Hu Jintao delivered a speech at the launch site.
"He hoped that all comrades on the space industry front . . . will conscientiously carry forward the 'two bombs and one satellite' spirit," reported the official Xinhua news agency. This was a reference to China's development of the A-bomb, the H-bomb and its first satellite. In case anyone missed the connection Hu was drawing between China's space and military programs, he called on the crowd "to seize new victories in China's space industry and in the development of science and technology for national defense."
This was the belligerent face of China in space. Orbiting aboard Divine Vessel 5, People's Liberation Army Lt. Col. Yang Liwei flashed the beautiful face. "For the peace and progress of all mankind," he wrote in his log, "the Chinese come to outer space."
But don't expect U.S. Defense planners to hug, kiss and congratulate the peace-loving Beijing regime for perfecting its space systems.
In January 2001, a special commission on space-related national security issues -- chaired by soon-to-be Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld -- reported that the U.S. military and intelligence communities are increasingly dependent on space-based technology that is vulnerable to both land- and space-based attack.
"There are a number of possible crises or conflicts in which the potential vulnerability of national security space systems would be worrisome," said the Rumsfeld Commission. Among them: "Conflict in the Taiwan Strait."