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China is reported to have shot down one of its own satellites, sparking international criticism and concern over the strength and sophistication of the nation's military.

Although there is nothing to suggest the test was carried out with hostile intentions, the fact that China feels able to demonstrate the capability to destroy orbiting technology satellites does cause eyebrows to raise in global political circles.

According to reports in the magazine American Aviation Week and Space Technology last week, China used a medium range ballistic missile to take down an old weather satellite. The US confirmed that the test had taken place, adding its voice to international concerns.

National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said that satellite interception tests - the first to have taken place for 20 years - were "inconsistent with the spirit of co-operation" in the civil space arena.

Australia and Japan have both expressed concern, according to the BBC. Japanese chief cabinet secretary, Yasuhisa Shiozaki, said his government had asked China for an explanation, adding that Japan is concerned about the peaceful use of space, and the safety aspect of shooting down satellites.

Meanwhile, Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer said he did not want to see the incident spark "an arms race in outer space".

The test comes mere months after the US revamped its space policy, taking a more militaristic tone than in the past. The policy scrupulously avoided any commitment not to develop space-based weapons.

It doesn't take much imagination to see China's missile launch, which it has yet to confirm, as a reply to the US's new policy.

Both the US and the old USSR shot down satellites in the 1980s, but they curtailed their fun over concerns about where the debris might land. ®

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