Maintaining Military Might
USS Russell

That's the USS Russell, the backup ship slated to shoot down a broken satellite on Feb. 20, 2008.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

World powers first recognized space as a military theater during the Cold War, the advent of spy satellites and nuclear missiles programmed to skim space en route to targets. In 1983, the Reagan administration's proposed Strategic Defense Initiative, aka the "Star Wars" program, raised the stakes even higher.

In a Dec. 29, 2011, white paper outlining its five-year plan, China stated that it "always adheres to the use of outer space for peaceful purposes, and opposes weaponization or any arms race in outer space." Yet, the Eastern power does not draw clear divisions between its military, civilian and scientific sectors. China's space program has already fashioned spy satellites with capabilities rivaling America's eyes in the sky and, once established, its homegrown GPS network will endow its armed forces with advanced command and control capabilities [source: Rabinovitch].

Likewise, both the United States and China have developed and tested technologies for shooting down satellites. According to analysts, China has identified America's military reliance on orbiting craft as a vulnerability [sources: Lague; Wolf].

Securing China's future, in space or on the ground, will take more than a robust military; it will require enriching the nation's educational system and building bridges with other Asian and Pacific powers. Let's take a look at China's outreach efforts.