Theft and Copying Keeps China’s Space Ambitions Behind
The Chinese communist regime’s space program, run by and for the People’s Liberation Army, focuses on weapons that aim to disable and decapitate the defensive capabilities of potential adversaries, including the United States.
Despite high-altitude dreams, China’s space force may be doomed to lag behind those of other powers, such as the U.S. and Russia, because its research and development is largely limited to what Chinese industry can steal or copy from outside its borders.
These findings and others were outlined in a report published on March 2 by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission titled “China Dream, Space Dream.” The report reviews and analyzes China’s space programs, and “how they advance China’s national security, economic, and diplomatic interests.”
According to the report, “the use of space power can facilitate long-range strikes, guided munitions, improved connectivity, and greater jointness across its armed forces.”
It has long been known that the Chinese space program plays a major role in the communist regime’s modern military planning.
The development of space-based weapons is supposed to give China the ability to have an asymmetric impact—disabling valuable U.S. capabilities for a fraction of the cost.
Last May, China tested a Dong Ning-2 anti-satellite missile, allegedly for a scientific mission, according to the the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Anti-satellite weapons are part of what China calls its “trump card” or “assassin’s mace” weapons. These are systems that would allow the Chinese military to disable certain parts of the U.S. military that it cannot fight.
Last January, Ashley Tellis, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, summed up the issue at a congressional hearing: “Chinese military planners are deeply focused on neutralizing U.S. space capabilities because of their belief that such neutralization is essential to whittle down dominance on which the U.S. military depends on for its success.”
Chinese military officers appear to agree. Lt. Gen. Wang Hongguang, a PLA officer who retired in 2012, wrote an opinion piece last year in China’s state-run Global Times, saying that China would use its “trump card” weapons suddenly, and warned Americans in their “pride and arrogance” to “not get trampled beneath us.”
Catching Up Through Theft
The USCC-commissioned report, researched and written by scholars with University of California’s Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, while appreciating the progress China has made serving its national interests in the space industry, notes that “its goals of using space to advance its economic and diplomatic interests remain underdeveloped.”
According to the report, modern military operations, commercial competitiveness, and strategic leverage will eventually come within the ability of China’s space force, but so far it relies on the “pioneering work of the United States and Russia,” causing Chinese ambitions to consistently lag behind.
The report thus deems China a “partial space power” that “has yet to translate its power in comprehensive influence.”
Also noted in the report is the continued superiority of the United States in the development of space technology vis-a-vis China, as Chinese intelligence agencies are well aware.
In 2012, two anonymous American intelligence officials told Bloomberg that the Chinese rely on stealing and reverse-engineering new technologies from Europe and America. China’s closed political system discourages the independent thinking that spawns innovation, stunting their own research, the officials said.
Since 2006, the U.S. Departments of Commerce and Justice also have identified at least 26 major cases since 2006 in which China has tried to acquire key equipment for military applications, including space-launch data and information on missile designs, according to the Bloomberg report.
Aside from warmaking potential, China’s emerging space program offers economic and political leverage “that China can use to influence international outcomes,” according to the report.
The report also described how the Chinese regime “uses the nation’s space program to demonstrate the success of the Chinese Communist Party’s leadership to domestic audiences.”