The latest revelation from the treasure trove of diplomatic cables being scrubbed and released by Wikileaks involves the mounting tensions between the U.S. and China over space. Cables reveal that the Chinese demonstrations of space weaponry - shooting down a satellite, for instance - were efforts to showcase the nation's growing mastery of the region around our planet.

Diplomatic cables between representatives of the two nations show that animosities were heating up.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald:

By January 2008 the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, raised the prospect of ''military'' action to protect US space systems. In a complaint to the Chinese, she said: ''Any purposeful interference with US space systems will be interpreted by the United States as an infringement of its rights and considered an escalation in a crisis or conflict. The United States reserves the right … to defend and protect its space systems with a wide range of options, from diplomatic to military.''

She also said the US had not tested an anti-satellite weapon since 1985. Just a month later this had changed. In February 2008 the US launched its own ''test'' strike to destroy a malfunctioning US satellite, which demonstrated to the Chinese that it also had the capability to strike in space. The US said that the strike was not a military test but a necessary mission to remove a faulty spy satellite. The Chinese did not believe the explanation.


Under the Obama administration, things remained tense, with U.S. officials trying to keep secret the brinkmanship going on in orbit. The Herald continues:

The Chinese assistant foreign minister complained the US missile defence program was not simply defensive but also offensive because ''it includes lasers that attack a missile in launch phase over the sovereign territory of the launching country''.

The most recent cable in the collection was sent from the office of Mrs Clinton in January last year. It said US intelligence detected that China had conducted a fresh anti-satellite missile test. Crucially, Washington wanted to keep secret its knowledge that the missile test was linked to China's previous space strikes. ''US objections to China's direct-ascent anti-satellite testing and still valid,'' Mrs Clinton's officials wrote, ''and reflect the policy of the United States.''