Culberson Optimistic Restrictions on US-China Space Cooperation Will Remain

Culberson Optimistic Restrictions on US-China Space Cooperation Will Remain

Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) said today that he is optimistic Congress will continue to prohibit NASA from engaging in bilateral cooperation with China unless certain conditions are met after he leaves Congress.  Culberson chairs a key subcommittee and has included that restriction in each of NASA’s appropriations bills since he became chairman four years ago, continuing a practice begun by his predecessor Frank Wolf.  Culberson lost his reelection race, however, so will not be returning in the 116th Congress.

Rep. John Culberson (R-TX)

Culberson received a Leadership Award from the Space Transportation Association (STA) at a luncheon today.  It recognizes his strong support of NASA as chairman of the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee.

After the event, asked him if he thinks someone else in Congress will take up the banner to continue the restriction.

“I am very optimistic and hopeful” that the language will remain in future law.  It is “in our national interest” to prevent the “Chinese from infiltrating the American space program.”  “I’ve always had very strong support for the language starting with Frank Wolf and I’m just following in his footsteps and helping to broaden the language, and strengthen the language, and I’m very optimistic it will stay.”

The prohibition first appeared in the FY2011 Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Resolution when Wolf chaired the CJS subcommittee.  It applies not only to NASA, but to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).  The language has evolved over the years.  The current version is Sec. 529 of the FY2018 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 115-141).

SEC. 529.

(a) None of the funds made available by this Act may be used for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) or the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to develop, design, plan, promulgate, implement, or execute a bilateral policy, program, order, or contract of any kind to participate, collaborate, or coordinate bilaterally in any way with China or any Chinese-owned company unless such activities are specifically authorized by a law enacted after the date of enactment of this Act.

(b) None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to effectuate the hosting of official Chinese visitors at facilities belonging to or utilized by NASA.

(c) The limitations described in subsections (a) and (b) shall not apply to activities which NASA or OSTP, after consultation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, have certified—

(1) pose no risk of resulting in the transfer of technology, data, or other information with national security or economic security implications to China or a Chinese-owned company; and

(2) will not involve knowing interactions with officials who have been determined by the United States to have direct involvement with violations of human rights.

(d) Any certification made under subsection (c) shall be submitted to the Committees on Appropriations of the House of Representatives and the Senate, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, no later than 30 days prior to the activity in question and shall include a description of the purpose of the activity, its agenda, its major participants, and its location and timing.

Congress has not completed action on the FY2019 CJS appropriations bill. The version reported by the House Appropriations Committee has very similar language (Sec. 528), but adds the National Space Council as subject to the restrictions.

Democrats won control of the House in the mid-term elections, so all House committees and subcommittees will get Democratic leaders in the 116th Congress, which begins on January 3.  Rep. Jóse Serrano (D-NY) is the top Democrat on the CJS subcommittee now and widely expected to become the new chair, although it is not official yet.  Whether he or others in the House or Republican-controlled Senate will fulfill Culberson’s optimism remains to be seen.

Coincidentally, China launched its Chang’e-4 lunar mission today.  The lander/rover will be the first spacecraft ever to land on the lunar farside. It carries several international instruments, but none from the United States.


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