Joe Biden’s top advisors are reportedly asking him to cooperate with China on space exploration as a way to ease tensions between the two nations. Such space cooperation may resemble the America and Russia space partnership during the Cold War era. If enacted, it could be a setback to the Trump administration’s focus on maintaining American supremacy in space and weaken America’s effort to counter China’s space expansion threat.
During the Obama-Biden administration, the U.S. canceled a Moon mission originally scheduled for 2020. NASA instead focused its effort on asteroid missions that unfortunately did not yield significant knowledge growth for America. In the meantime, China caught up on the space race using technology it obtained from America.
When Pres. Trump assumed the presidency, he reinvigorated America’s space ambitions by ordering a Moon landing mission by 2024 and proposed a Mars mission in partnership with private space agencies. The president also established the Space Force, which celebrated its first anniversary on Dec. 19, 2020. Vice President Mike Pence announced recently that members of the United States Space Force would be called “Guardians.” A Biden administration may cancel all of these projects.
China expert Gordon Chang warned Americans against becoming complacent in the space race against China. The advisors who asked Biden to partner with China “come out of the Obama administration, where we had an atrocious space policy where … we allowed the Chinese to make great strides at great disadvantage to ourselves, because, you know, it sounds nice that we can cooperate with the Chinese in space, but we know they steal hundreds of billions of dollars of U.S. intellectual property each year… But more important, the Chinese space program is military-oriented… So any transfers of technology are going to end up improving China’s military capabilities and China’s configuring [of] its military to kill Americans. So this is a horrible policy proposal on the part of the Biden transition team,” he said on Fox News.
A stumbling block to the Democrats’ China partnership proposal is an amendment of the NASA authorization bill that was introduced in 2011 by Republican Frank Wolf. The bill prohibits NASA, as well as the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, from spending funds on cooperating with China. If any of these agencies want to partner with China, it has to get certification from the FBI that none of the Chinese officials involved in the joint program had committed human rights abuses and that there was no risk in sharing information. Wolf believes that the bill should now become permanent. He warns that China still has a lot to learn from the United States about space, meaning that any “cooperation” would only end up with America sharing its information with China most of the time.
Chang notes that President Obama had spoken “reasonable-sounding words” when he said that America should not militarize space because the American people might become “the big losers.” However, all this time, both Russia and China continued with their space militarization activities. Consequently, America lost a lot of ground in this regard. About China’s space ambitions, Chang warned that the next 9/11 might come from space and that Americans will, again, end up being the victims.