On July 2, 2022, in an interview for a German news outlet, NASA administrator described in somewhat overbroad terms the long range goals of the Chinese space program.
“We must be very concerned that China is landing on the moon and saying: ‘It’s ours now and you stay out,’” Mr. Nelson said in an interview published Saturday in the German newspaper Bild.
….China’s space program, at its heart, is a military space program, Mr. Nelson said. “China is good. But China is also good because they steal ideas and technology from others,” he said, according to Bild.
A China spokesman for its Foreign Ministry, Zhao Lijian, immediately slammed Nelson’s comments, adding some of his own overbroad accusations against the U.S.
This is not the first time that the NASA administrator has lashed out at China in disregard of facts. Some US officials have spoken irresponsibly to misrepresent the normal and legitimate space endeavors of China. China firmly rejects such remarks.
As the head of US space administration, the official must be quite familiar with the disreputable history of US space program, including its role in creating space junk, stoking space arms race and disrupting global strategic stability and its enormous threat to the peaceful use of outer space.
…China always advocates the peaceful use of outer space, opposes the weaponization of and arms race in outer space, and works actively toward building a community with a shared future for mankind in the space domain. China’s space exploration is about meeting our legitimate national economic, social, scientific and security needs. Progress in China’s space endeavors is achieved through our own independent efforts. Our rights, interests and achievements shall not be unfairly questioned or discredited.
The only thing that Nelson said that could be construed as inaccurate is the claim that China will claim the entire Moon should it land there. China won’t do that, because China is a signatory in the Outer Space Treaty which forbids such a broad claim. China however has repeatedly violated the treaty in small ways — such as allowing large objects it has launched to crash uncontrolled on Earth — and based on its overall policy we should expect it to firmly claim as its own the territory that its astronauts eventually explore and occupy. This will be a violation of the treaty, but it will also be a reasonable act not unlike the approach the U.S. is taking with the Artemis Accords.
Thus, Nelson is right to underline the real competition with China.
He is also 100% right about China stealing technology. It does so routinely, such as when it hacked into the JPL database, stole all of that organization’s data on building unmanned planetary landers and rovers, and used that information to build its own lunar and Mars probes.
As for China’s response, Zhao Lijian’s claim that China’s is only interested in the peaceful use of outer space is absurd. Zhao even proved its absurdity by his other remarks at that same press conference. In discussing Taiwan, which has operated as an independent country now for more than seven decades and does not wish to be reabsorbed back into communist China, he said this:
There is only one China in the world and Taiwan is part of China. The one-China principle is a basic norm in international relations and an established international consensus. Based on the one-China principle, Taiwan has no right to attend as a delegation the activities of the UN and its special agencies and those of intergovernmental international organizations limited to sovereign countries. These principles and consensus will not change just because certain countries have endorsed and emboldened the Taiwan authorities. The failure of the Taiwan authorities to get into the conference was inevitable. Such a disgraceful act only exposes themselves to international ridicule. [emphasis mine]
We don’t know when it will happen, but China fully intends someday to invade Taiwan and reclaim it, through force. You have to be naive to think it won’t also use force to protect its interests in space.
This tit-for-tat is merely a reflection of the overall competition in space, something I labeled the new colonial movement back in 2005. There are valuable resources in space, and every space-faring nation in the world wants its share. China is no different. It is aiming to get to the south pole of Moon ahead of us, and if it does it will make sure to take firm control over the territory it explores. And the U.S. and its allies will do the same. To believe otherwise is to live in a fantasy world of unicorns and rainbows.
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