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Johnson-Freese: Why Wolf is Wrong About U.S.-China Space Cooperation

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Feb-2015
Updated: 18-Feb-2015 06:54 PM

Joan Johnson-Freese explained to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission today why former Rep. Frank Wolf was wrong to effectively ban all U.S.-China bilateral space cooperation.  Wolf retired at the end of the last Congress, but his successor as chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA holds similar views.

Johnson-Freese is a professor at the Naval War College and author of "The Chinese Space Program:  A Mystery Within a Maze" and "Heavenly Ambitions: America's Quest to Dominate Space."   She was one of the witnesses at today's hearing on China's space and counterspace programs.

Wolf included language in several Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bills that prohibits NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) from engaging in any bilateral activities with China on civil space cooperation unless specifically authorized by Congress or unless NASA or OSTP certifies to Congress 14 days in advance that the activity would not result in the transfer of any technology, data, or other information with national security or economic implications.   His indefatigable opposition to cooperating with China was based largely on its human rights abuses and efforts to obtain U.S. technology.  He was one of the strongest, but certainly not only, congressional critic of China, always stressing that he loved the Chinese people, but not the Chinese government.

Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) is Wolf's successor as chairman of the CJS subcommittee.  In December 2013 when rumors swirled that he would replace Wolf, he was interviewed by a reporter for the Houston Chronicle and when asked whether he agreed with Wolf about China replied: "Yes.  We need to keep them out of our space program, and we need to keep NASA out of China. They are not our friends." 

It remains to be seen whether he will include the same language in this year's CJS bill, but Johnson-Freese spelled out why she thinks it is the wrong approach.

She provides a comprehensive rebuttal to Wolf's reasoning, but in essence her contention is that "the United States must use all tools of national power" to achieve its space-related goals as stated in U.S. National Space Policy, National Security Strategy, and National Security Space Strategy.  Wolf's restrictions on space cooperation simply constrain U.S. options, she argues:  "Limiting U.S. options has never been in U.S. national interest and isn't on this issue either."    She disagrees with Wolf's assumption that the United States has nothing to gain from working with China:  "On the contrary, the United States could learn about how they work -- their decision-making processes, institutional policies and standard operating procedures.  This is valuable information in accurately deciphering the intended use of dual-use space technology, long a weakness and so a vulnerability in U.S. analysis."

For some issues, there really is no choice, she continues.  China must be involved in international efforts towards Transparency and Confidence Building Measures (TCBMs) and space sustainability, especially with regard to space debris, a topic given urgency by China's 2007 antisatellite (ASAT) test that created more than 3,000 pieces of debris in low Earth orbit.   She notes that since that test and the resulting international condemnation,  "China has done nothing further in space that can be considered irresponsible or outside the norms set the United States."

Not that China has refrained from tests related to negating other countries' satellites, however.  She and other witnesses detailed China's recent activities in that regard.   Kevin Pollpeter of the University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation and Dean Cheng of the Heritage Foundation joined her at the witness table.  They reported on "missile defense tests" in 2010, 2013 and 2014 that are widely considered in the West to be de facto ASAT tests, along with a  2013 "high altitude science mission" and co-orbital satellite tests in 2010 and 2013, as potentially related to ASAT development.  These tests were non-destructive, however, and did not generate space debris.

Former Sen. Jim Talent (R-Missouri), who co-chaired today's hearing, said that the Commission will publish a report by Pollpeter's institute on China's counterspace activities "in the coming days."   The Commission was created by Congress in 2000 and submits an annual report on national security implications of the U.S.-China trade and economic relationship.


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