The Final Frontier: New Space for US-China Relations

By Thaisrivongs, David | Harvard International Review, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

The Final Frontier: New Space for US-China Relations


Thaisrivongs, David, Harvard International Review


On October 15, 2003, at 9:00 AM Beijing time, the People's Republic of China became the third nation in history to send a human into orbit. The "taikonaut," Lt. Col. Yang Liwei, landed the inaugural flight just over 21 hours later and immediately became a national hero. However, there are many in the United States who look suspiciously at China's accomplishment, fearing that China's developing space technology is being used for military reconnaissance. The US Department of Defense annual report on "Military Power of the People's Republic of China" in 2002 concludes that this manned spaceflight could eventually aid Chinese military space capabilities and further its development of direct-ascent anti-satellite weapons, US navigational satellite signal jamming technology, and ground-based laser systems. However, when this remarkable achievement for China is considered in a broader context of political relations, it is clear that the United States should now shrug off its Cold War mentality in favor of more optimistic US-China relations.

China is willing to work with countries and accept help from them for its space program. Russia, its main partner, signed a bilateral space cooperation agreement with China in 1994 that provides for mutual space program development in areas including human spaceflight and missions to Mars. Russia aided China in its development of the Shenzhou spacecraft, the model that took Yang into space, and continues to provide technical assistance and materials to China's program. China has also benefited from cooperation with many other nations, including Sweden, which launched the Freja satellite on a Chinese vehicle in 1992, and Brazil, which is working with China to develop satellites under the China-Brazil Earth Remote Sensing program. In addition, China is cooperating with the European Space Agency (ESA) in magnetospheric studies, and signed a cooperative agreement in September 2003 with the European Union for the EU-ESA Galileo navigation system, a more advanced version of the US Global Positioning System.

Beneath the facade of China's costly display in October, there lies a country still in need of economic help. …

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