We Need to Make Sure Americans Don’t Undermine the Space Race With China

October 30, 2020 Updated: November 17, 2020

Commentary

At a recent online seminar, former NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin warned that if the United States doesn’t make some changes, China could soon upend democracy by becoming the world’s leader in space exploration.

Meanwhile, reporters in September uncovered that the son of the current Democratic candidate for president of the United States did the bidding of a Chinese state-owned military-aerospace supplier that’s part of the problem.

The United States has been the world’s leader in space since the Apollo program. It has a long history of cooperation with the Soviet Union, and now Russia, on space projects and thus has “had a relative period of peace” where “we haven’t had a real competitor in the world, economically, or from a national security standpoint, in space,” Goldin said.

But China has filled that void. It threatens to establish dominance and has gained near-parity in the space race in a relatively short time. And some Americans don’t seem to care.

The nation is at a new crossroads in space exploration. Technology has advanced eons ahead of where it stood during the great space race of the Cold War era. But China is now pouring billions into space advancement—so much so that some experts now predict it may operationalize space 40 years before the United States.

If America intends to retain its position as a world leader and ensure the survival of democracy, then it needs to be fully committed to winning in space.

That should start with cracking down one of the main problems that Goldin outlined—the fact that the country and its companies have “stolen a lot of our technology” to get ahead.

China’s intellectual property theft is as much as a $600 billion-a-year (pdf) problem for American companies. According to State Department officials, the Chinese acquire this property through legal or illegal means, send it to one of its 25 advanced science universities for reverse re-engineering, then apply for patents in China for the technology and its components.

This is occurring while NASA allies such as Elon Musk receive high-dollar loans from the likes of the China Construction Bank and Agricultural Bank of China while collaborating with powerful Chinese companies.

Are contractors like Musk security threats in and of themselves? No. But are their companies vulnerable to exploitation and theft of resources? It certainly seems so.

Chinese businesses are required by law to cooperate with intelligence services, and American firms doing business in China often are required to have members of the Chinese Communist Party on their boards and management teams. American firms in that situation who are involved with our space program should make those connections clear.

Congress should not re-authorize NASA without building in some security features that ensure this happens, such as those proposed by Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), through amendments to the NASA authorization bill.

China cannot be allowed to win this race. If that means we have to keep a better eye on who in our space program does business with China—and who in the U.S. business world aids China’s space industry—that’s a price worth paying.

Andrew F. Quinlan is the president of the Center for Freedom & Prosperity.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.