Share This!
Text SizeAAA Share Email

A Space Race With China

In the wake of the January 1999 Report of the Select Committee on US National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns with the People's Republic of China – commonly referred to as the Cox Report - the United States has enforced an increasingly restrictive set of controls governing scientific, commercial, and diplomatic contact with China on space-related matters. These restrictions are intended to prevent the transfer of technologies with military applications deemed threatening t o the United States and its allies in the region. Because many of these technologies also have non-military applications, the restrictions ended all commercial and scientific collaboration between China and the United States and locked the two communities into an adversarial relationship where every Chinese accomplishment is perceived as a threat to the United States.

An ironic consequence of the concerted US effort to inhibit Chinese access to advanced space technologies is the acceleration of China's ability to produce these technologies on their own. China made significantly more progress in the eight years since the Cox Report than they did in the eight years prior. In addition to becoming the third nation to master human spaceflight, China's space industry is poised for rapid growth. Two massive research and production facilities—one in Beijing and the other near Shanghai—will establish China as a significant player in the international satellite industry as well as supply their growing domestic demand for military and civilian satellite applications. China is committed to launching its own global positioning system. They are expanding and upgrading their earth observation capabilities with a new generation of weather and oceanographic satellites, high-resolution imaging satellites, radar satellites and a constellation of low-cost microsatellites. China is also developing a new launch vehicle three times more powerful than the most powerful rocket currently in use.

Sensing the need to adjust U.S. policy in the wake of these developments, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin traveled to China in September of 2006 to try to establish a foundation for future cooperation. Significant opposition in Congress and the Bush administration limited his ability to engage his Chinese counterparts, making the visit a dismal failure. The next administration should actively support attempts to broaden US contacts with the Chinese space community. China's rapidly improving capabilities suggest the benefits of scientific and technical cooperation are now greater that the diminishing returns of continued isolation and competition.

The full article is available in the Spring 2008 Volume of The Harvard Asia Pacific Review.

Powered by Convio
nonprofit software