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Food fight! China denies NASA chief’s charge that it wants to dominate space

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.

Conscious Choice cover

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Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
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  • Andi

    Taiwan can’t “not wish to be reabsorbed back into communist China”, as it was never part of communist China. I think it would be better to say “not wish to be absorbed into communist China”.

  • Col Beausabre

    The US only want its fair share of space – all of it

  • ‘Fair share’ is the share you earn.

    You want it all? Go for it all.

    Sorry, Portugal, but we aren’t interested in emulating the ‘start fast, finish, uh, where?’ model.

  • ‘Fair share’ is the share you earn.

    You want it all? Go for it all.

    Unlike Portugal, but we aren’t interested in emulating the ‘start fast, finish, uh, where?’ model.

  • pawn

    Infrastructure on the Moon will be so fragile, there’s all kinds of “accidents” just waiting to happen.

  • LocalFulff

    Well, no matter what one feels about it. The West now has to accept the reality of its extreme weakness militarily, industrially, financially, socially and also its total diplomatic isolation from most of the world. We no longer have the means to compete about stuff like being a super power or going to the Moon. All those abilities have already been destroyed. We have to pull back totally and leave everything to those in the world who do have such abilities and who are growing them. We need to lick our deep wounds and try to get basic stuff going like food on the table, gas in the car, a useful currency and from scratch create a military that at least is capable of self defense. And I hope start implementing rule-of-law again and try to build friendly relationships with other parts of the world again (which requires a trust that will take more than a lifetime to establish).

    This is the ruin we are in today and the way back is very hard and long and it will get very much worse before it starts getting better. Unfortunately I don’t see that Western voters will do anything other than to rapidly continue to worsen their own and their children’s lives.

  • It’s bad, but it’s not that bad. “The West” may be in severe trouble, but “America” will – eventually – be fine. We can power and feed ourselves, which is more than most of the world can say. The current domestic insanity will stop once imports stop (after a, hopefully short, period of excessive whining (and probably some burning) by the activist class).

    leave everything to those in the world who do have such abilities and who are growing them.
    And who would that be? China? That’s to laugh. China is doomed. Pick your destructor: Demographics, food, energy, or finance. Russia? I think we’ve had ample demonstration of their paper tiger status. The EU? Assuming the euro doesn’t tear it apart, they have no power, no food, and no people (with some interesting exceptions, but not the EU as a whole). Africa? They’ll be too busy dealing with famine.

    The United States are those in the world who have such abilities.

  • pzatchok

    I wish China would admit to wanting to dominate space.
    It would help to motivate Americans.
    Well maybe not the dope smoking lefties or the loyal pacifists who would trust China to be benevolent dictators or the mentally slow lefties who would give up everything for a sense of security.

    The rest of America would gain a new focus.

  • GaryMike

    I was first in China for the month of August, ’83.

    Visiting Bejing’s science museum, one exhibit hall had a 360-degree mural depicting “astronauts” on the moon.

    Not USA astronauts; no US flags of any kind.

    The implications were quite clear: Chinese Astronauts did it.

    No one else.

    Also, I was robbed in Shanghai, but that has nothing to do about anything, of course.

  • GaryMike

    The Solar System will be the next Wild West.

    We have prior experience that hasn’t yet aged beyond it sell-by date.

  • GaryMike: ‘Firefly’

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