U.S., China Agree to Bilateral Civil Space Cooperation Dialogue

U.S., China Agree to Bilateral Civil Space Cooperation Dialogue

During recent meetings with Chinese officials, Secretary of State John Kerry agreed to establish a “U.S.-China Civil Space Cooperation Dialogue.”  A State Department spokesman says the first meeting will be held before the end of October, but could not provide any other details.

The lengthy list of “outcomes” from the seventh round of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) held in Washington, DC June 22-24, 2015, includes a section on cooperation in science, technology and agriculture.   Under that heading, the two countries agreed as follows:

“101. Space: The United States and China decided to
establish regular bilateral government-to-government consultations on
civil space cooperation. The first U.S.-China Civil Space Cooperation
Dialogue is to take place in China before the end of October Separate
from the Civil Space Cooperation Dialogue, the two sides also decided to
have exchanges on space security matters under the framework of the
U.S.-China Security Dialogue before the next meeting of the Security

NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) have been prohibited by law from dealing with China on space cooperation on a bilateral basis for several years.  The prohibition was originally inserted in the appropriations bills that fund NASA by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), who chaired the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee before retiring last year.  The final law that he put in place (P.L. 113-235, the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015), which is in effect today, states that no funds may be spent by NASA or 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 law after the date of enactment of this Act.”

The new House CJS chairman, Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), agrees with Wolf’s position and the prohibition is continued in the House-passed version of the FY2016 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill (H.R. 2578).

The agreement signed by Kerry reflects State Department activities with China, which are not prohibited by law.  The State Department has a Bureau of Oceans and International and Scientific Affairs — often referred to as Oceans, Environment and Science (OES) — that oversees international civil space cooperation and presumably will be the official host of these meetings.  If and how NASA will be involved apparently is yet to be determined.

The agreement also says (section 102) that the two countries will continue bilateral consultations on satellite collision avoidance and the long-term sustainability of space as part of the new U.S.-China Civil Space Cooperation Dialogue.

Elsewhere in the list (section 31), the State Department says that the two countries decided to “enhance communication and coordination in the multilateral frameworks of the region, such as the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Regional Forum.”  As part of those activities, they will undertake joint projects in three areas, one of which is space security (the others are oil spill response and earthquake emergency response).

Also, section 106 reports that the two countries “enhanced cooperation and exchange in space weather monitoring programs, forecasts and services.”

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