GORDON G. CHANG | THE HILL
People on the NASA transition team of Joe Biden are urging the United States to start what could be the biggest transfer of technology to China. The giveaway could result in the Chinese military dominating space and, with it, world affairs. “Trying to exclude them, I think, is a failing strategy,” said Pam Melroy, a former astronaut and potential next administrator of NASA, referring to the Chinese. “It is very important that we engage.”
Important to engage? The Chinese space program is military at its core and, to the extent it is civilian, it serves as a conduit to the military. China has a policy of civil military fusion. This means the army has first call on anything and everything in civilian hands. Moreover, we should not forget the structure of the Chinese regime. The military is an operation of the Communist Party, which controls all the programs of the Chinese central government as well as every educational and research institution in the country. The space program is a party venture.
The Chinese military has major plans for the Moon, sometimes called the eighth continent. As military analyst Richard Fisher told me, “China wants to mine helium from the Moon to power its future fusion energy reactors and to use Moon resources to help build enormous solar energy collecting satellites to free it from foreign energy dependence.”
China also plans to colonize the Moon with military bases. “By controlling the Moon, China can control access to the Lagrangian Points and better control access to Mars and other planets,” Fisher, who is affiliated with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said. Stations floating at Lagrangian Points, orbital locations where gravitational forces balance and make it less expensive to maintain artificial objects in space, would allow China to dominate the new “interstates” to the heavens.
The stakes are high. As Brandon Weichert, the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower, explains, “Whoever controls the strategic high ground of space will ultimately control the course of events on Earth, in the strategic domains of land, sea, air, even cyberspace.”
Such Chinese space ambitions should concern other countries with such goals. “The universe is an ocean, the Moon is the Diaoyu Islands, and Mars is Huangyan Island,” Ye Peijian, the leader of the Chinese lunar program, said two years ago, referring to the Japanese islands in the East China Sea and Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.
“If we do not go there now even though we are capable of doing so, then we will be blamed by our descendants. If others go there, then they will take over, and you will not be able to go even if you want to.” Ye, with his reference to locations that Beijing views as sovereign territory, is making clear that China has no intention of allowing others on the Moon or other features in space, and that also means working with the Chinese space program would either be impossible or deeply misguided.
“The transition team is intent on partnering with the Chinese space agency despite the fact that they are aware of Chinese intentions,” Weichert said. Indeed, the cost of cooperation will be high. “For the Chinese, this will be the greatest technology transfer from us to them in their history. It will all but ensure they conquer space.”
Biden and his transition team may think they can limit partnering with China but that, as a practical matter, is unlikely to be the case here. “The problem with engaging China in super sensitive joint ventures is that the American side always starts with the best intentions, and safeguards and security checks are put in place by senior people but then, at the lower levels, the Chinese find ways to worm their way into areas they do not belong,” Paul Midler, an Asia analyst and author, told me. “Somehow, unwittingly, our side starts sharing too much.”
The whole idea of cooperation is flawed. Let us revisit how Ye compared space features with those in Chinese peripheral waters. In 2015, President Xi Jinping stood next to President Obama in the Rose Garden and told his host that, with regard to the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, “China does not intend to pursue militarization.” Yet China did exactly that a year after this promise, and the Chinese Ministry of Defense issued a statement justifying its “necessary military facilities.” Any pledges from Beijing about its intentions in space will, in all likelihood, be as worthless.
The space advisers to Biden have gotten the process backwards. Cooperation does not necessarily lead to a better relationship with militant regimes. There must be a basis of cooperation first, and unfortunately that does not exist with China. As Fisher, the military analyst, warns, “There can be no peace in space with the Communist Party until there is first peace with the Communist Party on Earth.”
Gordon Chang is a columnist and the author of “The Coming Collapse of China.” You can follow him online on Twitter and Parler @GordonGChang.