Biden advisors urge cooperation with China on space exploration

Top advisors to President-elect Joe Biden urged him to cooperate with the government of China in space exploration. This advice came to Biden behind closed doors.


Top advisors to President-elect Joe Biden urged him to cooperate with the government of China in space exploration. This advice came to Biden behind closed doors.

These calls for cooperation with China come despite China's position as the US primary geopolitical foe and China's track record of stealing American intellectual property.

According to Biden advisors, cooperation between the two nations could reduce tension and would be comparable to the cooperation between NASA and the former USSR's space program during the Cold War.

According to "experts" in the field of space exploration, America's position as the dominant force in space exploration is reliant on cooperation with countries such as China, Politico reports.

"Trying to exclude them I think is a failing strategy," Pam Melroy, a member of Biden's NASA transition team, told Politico. "It’s very important that we engage."

Melroy suggests that working together on scientific research would be best in regard to space cooperation. "That would be most successful when we focus on science, where intellectual property is less of an issue," Melroy explained.

"My concern is not that China is going places, but that our partners are going to China," former NASA administrator Charles Bolden said.

Bolden, who worked with Joe Biden in the Obama administration, suggested that allowing China to operate on its own in space, such as allowing them to build their own space station, is "short sighted."

Jeffrey Manber, the CEO of Nanoracks, a private company which works on the International Space Station, insists that "political problems make it more imperative to have cooperation. We need to have them in the room. We need to understand them."

Such calls for cooperation, however, are likely to face both political and legislative roadblocks.

One of these roadblocks is the so-called Wolf amendment, an amendment to the 2011 NASA authorization bill which prohibits NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy from cooperating with the Chinese government unless they attained an explicit exemption from the FBI.

Such exemptions are only approvable so long as no officials involved in intergovernmental cooperation are involved in human rights abuses and the agency determines that there is no risk in sharing information. The amendment has been included in every subsequent NASA authorization bill.

Former Virginia Congressman Frank Wolf, the author of the amendment, suggested against bypassing it. "China has taken a lot from the United States. China is catching up. We are still ahead of them, but they are catching up," Wolf claimed. "China has more to learn from the US than we have to learn from them… So any cooperation would mean they take from us, not that we take from them."

Bypassing such an amendment would also make it tough to get political support, with Texas Senator Ted Cruz taking to Twitter on Tuesday to criticize calls for cooperation.

"China is actively developing & testing weapons to destroy US satellites," Cruz claimed. "The CCP has based its military & space build-up on technology stolen from us. And the Biden team wants to get in bed with them?"

Others have expressed skepticism that cooperation between the two nations would provide any real benefit, especially in geopolitical relations. "In a philosophical way, you could say we could gain a cessation or decrease in the hostile attitude, but it seems like a pretty heavy lift for what is ultimately a pretty small level of cooperation," said astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria.

Lopez-Alegria also expressed concern over technology theft. "I think we're very leery about them learning about our technology and putting it to their own uses that might not be in our best interest," he said.

With the high probability of intense political opposition to such a move, even some who in principle support such cooperation suggest that there are better ways for the incoming Biden administration to advance space exploration.

"Honestly speaking, I think there’s a lot less controversial things they could be doing in space that they’ll probably want to get their feet wet with," suggested Victoria Samson of the Secure World Foundation, a non-profit promoter of space exploration. "It requires expending a lot of political capital on something that’s very easy to criticize."

The Biden transition team did not comment on the story.


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