A newly issued report examines China’s perceptions of its space program and the U.S. space program. It concludes that the United States and China are in a long-term competition in space.

“Although advancing rapidly, China’s space program is viewed by Chinese officials and analysts as trailing the U.S. space program. Nevertheless, China’s space industry plans to surpass the United States in space by mid-century,” the report explains.

The report — CHINA’S SPACE NARRATIVE -EXAMINING THE PORTRAYAL OF THE US-CHINA SPACE RELATIONSHIP IN CHINESE SOURCES AND ITS IMPLICATIONS FOR THE UNITED STATES – has been issued by the U.S. Air Force Air University’s China Aerospace Studies Institute.

“As the era of great power competition continues to evolve, we must understand the full breadth and depth of the competition, how they think, and how they are likely to act or react. This report lays the foundation to better understand the nature of the PRC’s [People’s Republic of China] vision of space, and its role in comprehensive national power,” explains Brendan Mulvaney, director of the China Aerospace Studies Institute.

Up and operating – China’s Chang’e-4 lander.
Credit: CNAS/CLEP

Space resources

One area flagged in the report deals with a Chinese space resource extraction program.

That effort could lead to Chinese efforts “to shape international governance of the space environment in favor of Chinese interests or unilateral efforts to occupy favorable locations in space or on the Moon.”

The Outer Space Treaty, for example, which both the United States and China have signed, prohibits countries from claiming asteroids or other celestial bodies, but does not address private claims, the report points out. The Moon Treaty, on the other hand, does ban private claims, but neither the United States nor China has signed that document.

“The absence of an international governance system for space resource extraction could lead to space remaining a largely ungoverned commons subject to the unrestrained actions of individual countries prone to making the space equivalent of land grabs,” the report says.

This document is available at:

https://www.airuniversity.af.edu/Portals/10/CASI/Conference-2020/CASI%20Conference%20China%20Space%20Program%204%20ways%20of%20seeing.pdf?ver=xlOYpHjDyFghm750161yag%3D%3D

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