In April of 2011, the United States Congress passed a spending bill. A two-sentence clause hidden in that bill was a major step backwards for cooperation between the United States and China, particularly regarding the assertions made in this blog regarding an effort to build a foreign policy focused on building trust and a reasonably healthy, cooperative relationship between the two nations. The clause in question, as reported by Forbes in 2011, prohibits any joint scientific venture between NASA and the People’s Republic of China.
According to the aforementioned Forbes article (written in 2011), the clause was inserted by an open opponent of the Chinese government within Congress, Republican Frank Wolf of Virginia. Wolf included the clause to prevent collaboration of any kind between NASA and/or the OSTP and China in order ensure China does not take advantage of American technology. Forbes reported the ban would have expired at the end of that respective fiscal year, though Wolf was likely going to seek to make such a ban permanent. Wolf said of the ban “We don’t want to give them the opportunity to take advantage of our technology, and we have nothing to gain from working with them,” (Pentland, 2011). Then President Barack Obama claimed the ban did not apply to scientific interactions conducted between the United States and China as part of foreign policy (Pentland, 2011) which seems somewhat counterintuitive but may simply have been the result of partisanship. In other words, Obama may have simply wanted to undercut legislation put forth by a Republican congressman, and so he gave a rather large caveat to the legislation in question. The Forbes article went on to explain why Congressman Wolf may be so protective of information and have such a seemingly bleak outlook on China and their intentions. The article reports that Wolf’s office was the target of cyber-attack in 2006, and an FBI investigation concluded the attack originated from the People’s Republic of China, so there may well have been a personal aspect to Wolf’s insertion of the exclusion clause. If that is the case, it is unfortunate and inappropriate for a member of Congress to insert a clause that could hamper trust and healthy relations between two of the most powerful nations on earth for personal reasons. That said, Forbes also notes that there may be some validity to Wolf’s reservations beyond his personal experiences. They reference a study done by Northrup Grumman that created a chronology of Chinese hacking attempts against the United States. The chronology cited by Forbes chronicles ten known hacks between 2004 and 2010.
In 2015, Business Insider wrote a piece explaining why the U.S. and China do not work together on space-related issues. In it, they quote a “space policy expert” (Dickerson, 2015) named John Logsdon, who is reported as saying “The first step is the White House working with congressional leadership to get current, unwise restrictions on such cooperation revoked,” (Dickerson, 2015). The article itself goes on to say that collaboration between NASA and China could be beneficial (Dickerson, 2015). However, as of this writing, no major collaborative space operations have been conducted between the United States and China, and China is still banned from work on the International Space Station.
Dickerson, K. (2015, October 19). Here’s why NASA won’t work with China to explore space. Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://www.businessinsider.com/nasa-china-collaboration-illegal-2015-10
Pentland, W. (2011, November 15). Congress Bans Scientific Collaboration with China, Cites High Espionage Risks. Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/williampentland/2011/05/07/congress-bans-scientific-collaboration-with-china-cites-high-espionage-risks/