Providing Funds or Know-How to Beijing’s Space Programs Should be Illegal: Report

May 15, 2020 Updated: May 20, 2020

Congress should do more to block funds and know-how from finding their way into Chinese space programs, according to a report written for a U.S. government commission.

“The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is executing a long-term strategy to exploit U.S. technology, talent, and capital to build up its military space and counterspace programs and advance its strategic interests at the expense of the United States,” according to the report for the bipartisan U.S.–China Economic and Security Review Commission.

The report recommends several actions to Congress to blunt China’s growing ambitions in space.

“The current laws to protect U.S. technology and prevent U.S. capital from funding China’s military space programs and activities appear to be inadequate,” according to the report, which was published by the Commission on May 11.

“Congress should consider passing new laws or enhancing existing laws in order to make it illegal for U.S. government departments and agencies, national labs, universities, companies, fund managers, and individual investors to support China’s space program and activities, which are inherently military (not civil) in nature.”

Virtually all Chinese space programs are dual military-civilian use and the majority are handled by the Chinese military, according to the report, which cites Chinese internal documents as well as U.S. unclassified intelligence reports.

Long March 5B rocket
A Long March 5B rocket lifts off from the Wenchang launch site on China’s southern Hainan island on May 5, 2020. (AFP/Getty Images)

“China’s approach to modernizing its space presence includes an emphasis on military-civil fusion (MCF) and the development of dual-use technology that buoys both military and economic growth. Should China’s capabilities surpass those of the United States, the erosion of the U.S. military’s ability to contest the PLA in a potential future conflict will be at risk,” the report states.

“According to Chinese government sources, China’s national space program is largely managed by the PLA, and Chinese space assets are probably assigned as either military or dual-use (military-civil) assets to be mobilized in the event of a crisis or war.”

China has continued to push forward with its space programs in recent years and is now able to boost its coffers by offering low-cost launch services to international customers.

“In 2018 alone, China successfully launched 38 space launch vehicles, putting approximately 100 satellites in orbit,” according to the report. “China expects to carry out more than 40 launches in 2020.”

Space is increasingly viewed as a warfighting domain by many nations, including the United States. Satellites are a vital component of the network of communications and sensors that make up a modern warfighting machine.

With space now recognized as the fifth warfighting domain, alongside cyber, air, sea, and land, the United States recently christened its own Space Force.

The Chinese military also appears to be developing counter-space capabilities.

“The PLA also has deployed or is developing jamming and cyberspace capabilities, directed energy weapons, on-orbit capabilities, and ground-based ASAT missiles that can deny an adversary unimpeded use of its own satellite systems,” the report states.

“Testing of kinetic kill vehicles (KKVs), high-powered lasers, co-orbital satellites, electronic jamming, and—possibly—cyberattacks have been reported. The opacity surrounding China’s space programs suggests other clandestine counter-space weapons programs may also exist.”

The report calls for an annual Pentagon unclassified report on Chinese military space developments and for the government to keep track of how many doctoral graduates in space-related fields return to China after graduation.

In addition to preventing U.S. research and finance from boosting China’s space program, the report also recommends steps to boost U.S. space programs—by ensuring NASA and aerospace university programs have enough money to nourish homegrown talent.

The report also recommends taking the fight for space superiority to the silver screen.

“CCP-controlled entities and front organizations have prioritized the insertion of Beijing’s space-related propaganda themes into Hollywood blockbusters,” the report states. To counter what it describes as “authoritarian propaganda and censorship in Hollywood,” the report recommends that movies should carry warnings if “their content has been coproduced, funded, altered, or otherwise approved by CCP-affiliated entities and China’s state censors.”

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