The U.S. Should Not Cooperate with China on Space Program


On Monday, the trial of Hanjuan Jin – the American citizen accused of stealing corporate secrets for the Chinese government – began in Chicago. The prosecution contends that Jin downloaded files from Motorola computers in order to provide crucial technological information to the Chinese government. Jin’s case is just the latest example that is fueling the growing fear of Chinese espionage in the United States. On November 2, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) gave a speech before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations regarding U.S. cooperation with China on its space program: an action he sees as ill-advised. I agree with Wolf about this: technological collaboration in space with China is unwise. The current administration, as well as those to follow, should discontinue technological cooperation on its space program with the Chinese government until China ceases to spy on the U.S. government and U.S. corporations.

There is no doubt that China and its agents are spying on us. But it is the extent of their espionage that is unknown. While it is true that all countries participate in espionage, it seems that China is more agressive than most. In a report issued last week, U.S. intelligence officers named “China the world’s biggest perpetrator of economic espionage” and, along with Russia, China is “the most aggressive collector of U.S. economic information and technology.” The report estimates that $398 billion in U.S. research money is jeopardized by the espionage pursued by China and Russia. It is not only the government that is experiencing problems, but also U.S. companies that “have reported an ‘onslaught’ of computer network intrusions originating in China,” according to Defense News. These figures do not seem to significantly impact the decisions the Obama administration or NASA, who seem to have begun collaborative work on China’s space program. According to Wolf, the head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy made three trips, totaling 21 days, to China in one year.

Looking to the Space Race of the past should remind us why cooperating with China now is a misguided idea.  With the extraordinary competition between the U.S. and USSR came the Dustbuster, smoke detectors, and ear thermometers, according to TechRadar. But along with these basically harmless inventions, the Space Race of the 1950s and 1960s created satellites and the ability to track people’s health remotely. Eric Bolden, the chief of NASA, argues that “some level of engagement in China in space-related areas … can form the basis for dialogue and cooperation in a manner that is consistent with the national interests of both our countries, when based on the principles of transparency, reciprocity, and mutual benefit.” What Bolden says may be true if there was “transparency” and “reciprocity” between the U.S. and China; however, we are unable to trust China to keep its hands off our confidential government documents or private corporate ideas. 

Developing new technology with a country whose espionage is known to us and when our knowledge of it known to them makes the U.S. appear to waffle on important issues, such as national security. Even our eternally divided Congress agreed on this earlier this year, by lending bipartisan support to a measure that bans federal funds from being used on scientific interactions with China. This ban should remain in effect until the Chinese government changes its policies regarding its espionage in the United States. The U.S. must stand up for its values as well as its innovative ideas and profits and force China to change before collaborating with it.

Photo Credit: tableatny