August 12, 2022

The International Space Station and China

Shenzhou 9
Chinese crew members of Shenzhou 9, Jing Haipeng, Liu Wang, Liu Yang.  Photo:Johnson Lau,Tksteven,Bluerena

The International Space Station (ISS), a research laboratory orbiting Earth, is a product of the cooperation of the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan, and an assortment of European nations. China, however, is not part of the ISS project, and is instead building its own space station. Why do the Chinese not want to be a part of the ISS? The more accurate question may be: why are the Chinese not being allowed to join the ISS?
China’s exclusion from the ISS in the beginning stages of the project was largely a result of the difference in foreign policy and ideology between China and the United States, which led to a culture that did not promote information-sharing between the two nations. National security also played a role, since satellites and other space technology can be used for surveillance and targeting during times of war. Additionally, China’s space program may not have been developed enough to be a significant contributor.
That has since changed, with China launching numerous spacecraft containing human passengers since its first in 2003. Li Xueyong, a vice minister of science and technology, conveyed interest in 2007 of Chinese participation in the ISS. This desire was expressed a few months after China became the first nation to use a land-based anti-satellite missile launcher to destroy an old satellite, which created uneasiness among other nations because of the possible military uses of such an action. No invitation was extended to the Chinese to participate in the ISS.
The high financial cost incurred by the ISS is one reason in support of Chinese involvement, which could relieve some financial strain felt by NASA and the Russian space program. However, the U.S. remains staunchly opposed to inviting China to join the project, with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, former chairman of the House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, citing China’s many human rights violations as having no place in the ISS project, which is “supposed to stand for something better”. Apparently this stance does not extend to Russia and their disregard for the human rights of the LGBT community, nor to the U.S. with the continued operation of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp, commonly referred to as Gitmo.  Perhaps only those nations seeking to join the ISS “club” need to respect human rights, while those who are already members can do as they please.
U.S. fears that China may send spies to the ISS if invited to join the project are another factor in the opposition to Chinese participation. These fears have begun to affect scientific research, with Republican congressman Frank Wolf championing a law passed in 2013 which prohibits NASA from cooperating with Chinese companies or the Chinese state. This led to NASA banning anyone with Chinese nationality from attending a 2013 conference on exoplanets at NASA’s Ames Research Center, a move condemned by many American astronomers and the scientific community.
Progress that results from scientific research is dependent on the sharing of information. If research, such as that performed on the ISS, is hidden because of political squabbles and distrust among nations, it is not any individual nation that is disadvantaged, instead, it is humanity as a whole, regardless of nationality, that suffers from this blow to progress.

©HeckleMaster™Inc.,  January 24, 2016,  All Rights Reserved

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