WASHINGTON—Two Chinese journalists were supposed to watch the U.S. space shuttle Endeavour take off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in mid-May. The shuttle was using the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2 particle detector, a component developed by Chinese scientist Samuel Ting, and their story would have made useful provender for China’s state media apparatus.
But they were turned away at the gates.
Their employer, Xinhua, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), went into high dudgeon. A scornful editorial made no bones about the man and the law responsible: “‘Wolf Clause’ betrays China-U.S. cooperation,” the headline read.
It was the doing of Rep. Frank Wolf, a long-term critic of the CCP, after he became chairman of the House Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee in January.
The language he inserted into the spending bill for those agencies in April prevents NASA and the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) from using federal funds for diplomacy with China.
The agencies are not allowed to “develop, design, plan, promulgate, implement, or execute a bilateral policy, program, order, or contract of any kind to participate, collaborate, or coordinate bilaterally in any way with China or any Chinese-owned company.”
Additionally, it prevents NASA from hosting “official Chinese visitors.”
The U.S. has no business cooperating with the PLA to help develop its space program.
—Frank Wolf, Chairman of the House Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee
“I think the Chinese are shocked,” said one of Wolf’s staffer’s in a telephone interview, responding to the Xinhua counterattack. “They’re so used to the administration caving to them and bending over backward. I think they’re truly taken aback that this policy was put in place.”
The clause is part of a larger debate about how the United States should deal with a Chinese communist regime that, while gathering ever more global clout, engages in state-sanctioned human rights abuses, technology theft, and persistent cyberwarfare against the U.S. government and American companies.
While none of that is new to Rep. Frank Wolf, the straw that broke the camel’s back was the suggestion by the Obama administration—first made when the president went to Beijing in November 2009, and reiterated when Chairman of the Communist Party Hu Jintao visited Washington in January—that the United States cooperate with China in human space flight.
The scope of the cooperation would have extended to “hands-on, bilateral, human space flight technology sharing, training sharing, and critical national secrets or expertise, giving that to the Chinese,” according to Wolf’s staff member, who was not authorized to speak publicly. “We look at this and say: ‘How does that administration not get this?’”
Wolf made his position clear in his testimony to the U.S.-China Commission in May: “The U.S. has no business cooperating with the PLA to help develop its space program.”
Cooperation with China on human space flight, would, according to Richard Fisher, an analyst and author on the Chinese military, “In essence … constitute a free transfer of technology.”
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) leads China’s space efforts, and there is no real difference between China’s military and civil space programs, experts say. Wolf thus asserts, “There is no reason to believe that the PLA’s space program will be any more benign than the PLA’s recent military posture.”
His clause to combat this cooperative venture and others like it was passed as part of the budget negotiations, and is valid until Sept. 30. The item will have to stand on its own merits in new legislation to be introduced into the House.
Though the area of acute concern was human space flight cooperation, Wolf made the language cover OSTP as well “to send a signal to the White House and NASA” that “this is unacceptable,” according to Wolf’s staffer. “To engage China increasingly in bilateral areas is not appropriate until we see some changes in China,” the staffer added.
The administration and Congress have locked horns on the issue already, and they may do so again.
Chief of the OSTP, John Holdren, told Wolf’s subcommittee in early May that “the prohibition should not be read as prohibiting interactions that are part of the president’s constitutional authority to conduct negotiations,” effectively saying that the provision would not block cooperation.
Continued: Holdren unperturbed