The People's Republic of China has embarked on an ambitious program in order to compete with the United States in both the civil and military aspects of space exploration. Legitimate concerns about China's military intentions, in space and as a major international power, have led many Americans to question whether the United States should cooperate with China on civil space programs. Some fear that any Sino-American cooperation in civil space programs could lead to technology leaks, or inadvertent assistance that could make China a more formidable power in space. It is tough to know the future, however, and it is impossible to know how Sino-American relations will develop. Thus, as with Russia, there is some utility for cooperative programs in space as long as American technology does not improve China's military capabilities.

Looking at Russia, few people in 1962 could have predicted that in 2005 a Russian space capsule would have permitted the continuation of missions in space after the Columbia disaster. Indeed, the United States and the then-Soviet Union maintained only limited contact on space programs between 1962 and 1969. As part of a diplomatic overture, former President Richard Nixon raised the possibility of joint space flight in 1970, and eventually received a positive response.

In 1972, a bilateral agreement led to a linkup in space between Soyuz and Apollo spacecrafts. Even then, few could have believed that the post-Columbia grounding of the U.S. shuttle fleet would have resulted in Russians sending an American into space. American astronaut Edward Lu and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko had prepared to fly to the International Space Station (ISS) on the U.S. shuttle Atlantis. Instead, on April 27, 2003, both astronauts took a Russian Soyuz capsule to the space station. At present, the Russians have the only spacecraft capable of transporting crews to and from the ISS. Yet, had it not been for the United States' and the Soviet Union's measured programs of cooperation in civil space exploration, such an outcome would have been impossible.

Despite fears about the Soviet Union's ultimate intentions, informed decisions were made about U.S.-Soviet Union cooperation in space. This experience is an example of why we should find ways to cooperate with China, in space, in ways that neither compromise military security nor improve China's capabilities to exploit space for its own commercial or military purposes.

There are practical policies that will permit Sino-American cooperation in civil space programs, while preserving U.S. security. In November, 2004 we saw the first tentative steps towards the possibility of building such a partnership when representatives of the China National Space Administration (CNSA) met with their Russian, American and European counterparts in Washington, D.C., to discuss how an international partnership could assist President George W. Bush's space exploration initiative. This was followed in December by an informal face-to-face meeting, at NASA headquarters, between the head of the CNSA, Sun Laiyan, and agency chief Sean O'Keefe. Real cooperation can serve to build confidence between two nations still suspicious about the other's intentions. And, as was the case with the Soviet Union when an agreement was signed in 1970, no one can predict what such cooperation can mean in 20 years. This article will advance a few of these policies.

Policies to Guide Space Cooperation with China

Firstly, the United States should not assist China in its space efforts. The Chinese government must advance its own programs, progress under its own "steam" and manage its own research and development. Secondly, the United States should be willing to work with China on specific programs only when the Chinese are able to do so, at their own pace of development, and using their own technology. Thirdly, the United States should take no active steps to hinder China's civil space programs. It is also important to understand that protecting one's own technology and taking a passive stance toward China's own development does not constitute active steps to hinder China.

Given China's history of illegally acquiring technology, any U.S. policy should require the careful scrutiny and licensing of any technology transfers in the space arena. Their goal should be the prevention of the transfer of any technology with military application that could help China achieve its military goals in space. These guidelines may seem simple, but they are practical ways of permitting civil cooperation in space, both as confidence-building measures between China and the United States, and as measures to facilitate similar programs to the ones the United States and Russia now enjoy on board the ISS.

China's Goals in Space

China's state council has issued a space policy declaring that its space exploration will be for peaceful purposes, with a view towards commercial applications and technology development. This is a grand declaration, but really an empty one. After all, we know that both the Soviet Union and the United States consider the military use of space and military applications integral to their respective space programs. China has done the same and will continue to do so. Indeed, Dean Cheng, a researcher at the U.S. Virginia-based Center for Naval Analyses, in an October 2004 report, maintains that "China's entire space infrastructure is controlled by the People's Liberation Army." Two American companies were indicted for transferring controlled technology to China, with the intention of assisting with their civil satellite launch programs, but resulted in improving China's ability to release multiple warheads in space. Ultimately, these companies negotiated plea agreements with the United States government.

China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) is designing a new generation of missiles with multiple warheads and penetration aids. China's military is also experimenting with directed-energy weapons that can kill satellites. In the realm of theoretical research, China is working on particle-beam weapons that can engage missiles in flight, as well as space bodies. Such weapons could operate from space. China has also assembled the elements of what could form a system of "microsatellites" capable of being used as kinetic energy weapons to destroy enemy satellites or jam them. Official Chinese publications such as the PLA's Jiefangjun Bao and the space industry's Zhongguo Hangtian have reported the research and development of what can constitute the elements of such a system. These are just a few of the reasons why careful technology controls are needed in dealing with China's space exploration and space programs.

China has significant goals in space, devoting about a billion dollars between 2001 and 2005 to aerospace research and development. Beijing launched an ocean resource satellite {JC: WHEN?} and has a series of satellites that can conduct military reconnaissance, meteorology and communications missions. Although China has only one manned space flight to its credit so far, its manned orbital program aims to put two astronauts into space for three to five days within the next year. And China's long-term goals are to put people on the moon.


Another man's reality: On October 15, 2003, Yang Liwei became China's first
astronaut as Shenzhou 5 was successfully launched from the Jiuquan Satellite
Launch Center in the northwest Gansu Province. The mission lasted 21 hours and
made China the third country in human history to put a man in space, four decades
after the Soviet Union and the United Sates. Image Credit: AP Photo/Xinhua, Li Gang

Sino-American Space Cooperation

There are a couple of natural constituencies in the United States for Sino-American space cooperation. Within the government, the Department of Commerce would probably argue that such cooperation is a natural component of existing scientific and commercial cooperation protocols between the United States and China. The Department of Commerce would probably find natural allies in some of the bureaus of the Department of State for this generous position with respect to China. In U.S. industry, satellite manufacturers would likely want to take advantage of the cheaper launch services China offers, as they did in the 1990s. And technology research and development firms might seek outside markets by supplying hardware or services to China. These constituencies would probably seek to weaken any export controls placed on space technology by the Department of Defense or U.S. intelligence agencies.

But the best approach is a cautious one. Some of China's actions on the earth's surface, and below the sea, are worrisome. China has violated the territorial waters of Japan in undersea exploration. China has challenged the nations of Southeast Asia on the delineation of borders and undersea resources. It would be foolhardy to design a program with China that would alarm friends and allies in Asia.

Nonetheless, within the context of the existing ISS program, there are a number of things that can be done with China. Research on the nature of proteins and enzymes useful for possible disease treatments and new drug development can be carried out in cooperation with China. Here, China must demonstrate that it will honor intellectual property rights agreements if it is to be allowed to participate in such programs. The same is true of the types of tissue culture and flames, fluids and metal interaction experiments that are carried out in the ISS. Basic research in these areas--provided China is a contributor and not a consumer of research--is something the ISS partners, including the U.S., could explore. The ISS project already involves Canada, Japan, the European Space Agency, the United States and Russia. Brazil and Italy are also contributing to the station. Thus, there is room here to include China when its own programs are ready to permit cooperation with others. Cooperation with China in space also offers unique opportunities to observe China's intentions in space, monitor its activities, and develop international legal protocols.

Congress must take some action before the United States can engage in cooperation in space with China. The Export Administration Act, which establishes controls over dual use items, i.e., those items with both civil and military application, has not been substantially revised since 1979. There have been well-reasoned attempts over the past five years in Congress to draft a new act that accounts for advances in technology since 1979, without success. Congress must hold hearings on the Export Administration Act, with a goal of establishing technology controls and an export monitoring system that can carry the United States into the future, and protect technologies with vital military application. Appropriate national controls on exports have to be established and coordinated with allies so that national security controls help to foster international commerce.

In fact, China is already involved in cooperative programs in space, with the European Space Agency, that are designed to form a satellite observation and control network. Thus, it is clear that at least in Europe, there would be few objections to wider cooperation with China. There are already Sino-Brazilian Earth Resources Satellites, demonstrating that another U.S. partner in ISS program would probably be an option for increasing cooperation with China.

A preliminary mechanism to ensure that space cooperation with China does not damage American security already exists. In October 2002, NASA and the Department of Defense signed a memorandum-of-agreement, focusing on space technology and the protection of national security interests in the pursuit of future commercial applications in space. At the time, Undersecretary of the Air Force Peter B. Teets and NASA administrator O'Keefe made it clear that there are technologies, such as propulsion systems, reusable launch systems and telecommunications, that are both common to military and civilian space programs. Such technologies can be developed while protecting the nation's security. The U.S. Strategic Command, the National Reconnaissance Office and Air Force Space Command were all members of the partnership on space technological research.

Conclusion

Both the United States and China see space as a military domain. Programs of cooperation with China in space, like any other technology or scientific cooperation program, must be monitored by the federal government, and designed in such a way that U.S. security is not harmed. A few basic principles need to be applied. To reiterate: The United States should not assist China in its space efforts. The Chinese government must advance its own programs, progress under its own "steam", and manage its own research and development. The United States should be willing to work with China on specific programs only when the Chinese are able to do so at their own pace of development, and using their own technology. The United States should take no active steps to hinder China's civil space programs. Finally, the Congress should update the Export Administration Act to protect 21st century U.S. technology with military application.

Given the history of China's attempts to illegally acquire technology, U.S. policy should require the careful scrutiny and licensing of any technology transfers in the space arena. The goal should be to prevent the transfer of any technology with military application that could help China achieve its military goals in space. These guidelines seem simple, but they are practical ways to permit civil cooperation in space, both as confidence-building measures between China and the United States, and as measures to facilitate such programs as the United States and Russia now enjoy on the ISS. No U.S. program should be delayed or altered to facilitate China's participation. Nothing should be held up simply for the purpose of finding a palatable way to cooperate with China. But where possible, when the Chinese reach the appropriate stage of development in their own space program, the United States and China should be able to cooperate in purely civil areas of space exploration.

Dr. Larry Wortzel is vice president for foreign policy and defense studies of The Heritage Foundation. Before joining Heritage, he tracked events in China as an army strategist and intelligence officer since 1970, retiring as a colonel. Dr. Wortzel served two tours of duty as a military attache in China.