Bolden's Trip to China Provokes Congressional Concern

Bolden's Trip to China Provokes Congressional Concern

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden is headed to China October 16-21. Aviation Week & Space Technology first publicly reported on the trip two weeks ago, noting that it would include discussions about potential U.S.-China cooperation in human spaceflight. In an exchange of letters with Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), the top Republican on the House appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, Bolden confirmed the dates of the trip and assured the Congressman that the talks are only introductory in nature.

Rep. Wolf has made it clear year after year that he opposes human spaceflight cooperation with China. He wrote a letter to Mr. Bolden on October 5 asking for details on the China visit and reminded the agency that Congress has not approved any such cooperation. Rep. Wolf said in the letter:

“It should go without saying that NASA has no business cooperating with the Chinese regime on human spaceflight. China is taking an increasingly aggressive posture globally, and their interests rarely intersect with ours. The U.S. intelligence community notes that China’s attempts to spy on U.S. agencies are the most aggressive of all foreign intelligence organizations. China’s aerospace industry for decades has provided missile technologies and equipment to rogue regimes like Iran and North Korea.

“There is no clearer indication of the gulf that exists between our two countries than the Chinese government’s treatment of its own people. China routinely imprisons or places under house arrest Catholic bishops, priests and Protestant house church pastors. Their congregations are forced to gather in secret. As of July 2009, there were 689 Tibetan prisoners of conscience, 439 of whom were monks or nuns. Uyghur Muslims face persecution by the Chinese government as well. China maintains an extensive system of slave labor camps as large as that which existed in the former Soviet Union.”

Mr. Bolden replied on October 8, assuring Rep. Wolf that the talks on human spaceflight are introductory only “and will not include consideration of any specific proposals for human space flight cooperation or new cooperation in any other areas of NASA’s activities.” Mr. Bolden went on to say that a reciprocal visit “by Chinese Government officials to NASA facilities” is being planned and such plans “will be guided by the degree of transparency and openness that is displayed during my visit.” Finally, the NASA Administrator added that:

“Let me stress again that NASA’s interactions with Chinese organizations will continue to be based on the principles of transparency, reciprocity, and mutual benefit and conducted with appropriate interagency coordination. NASA’s interaction with Chinese entities will be in accordance with existing law and policy, and any specific future opportunities for potential cooperation will be coordinated through interagency review prior to formalization with Chinese partners. Additionally, NASA will comply with the Congressional certification requirements that pertain to prospective cooperative agreements with Chinese entities, as set forth in section 126(a) of the NASA Authorization Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-391).”

If Republicans take control of the House next month, Rep. Wolf could become the chairman of the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations subcommittee that handles NASA funding next year. U.S.-China space cooperation has been a particularly touchy subject since the late 1990s when a Republican-led House commission concluded that China was gaining militarily useful information by launching U.S.-built satellites. The “Cox Commission” findings led to a ban on exporting satellites with any U.S. components to China for launch. Suspicions about China’s motives in wanting to cooperate with the United States in space have not subsided in many circles since that time. Conversely, with China now capable of human spaceflight and launching robotic probes to the Moon — like the Chang-e 2 spacecraft launched October 1 — others see U.S.-China space cooperation as an opportunity to be cultivated.

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