After howls of protests from both American scientists and Beijing propagandists screaming “discrimination,” NASA has reversed its initial decision to exclude Chinese nationals from the Kepler Science Conference at the Ames Research Center in California early next month.
The reversal came after Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA), the author of legislation restricting contacts between NASA and China, indicated the Chinese should not be barred. “The congressional provision — which has been in place since early 2011 — primarily restricts bilateral, not multilateral, meetings and activities with the Communist Chinese government or Chinese-owned companies,” he wrote to NASA on the 8th of this month. “It places no restrictions on activities involving individual Chinese nationals unless those nationals are acting as official representatives of the Chinese government.”
Wolf gave NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who is broadly in favor of cooperation with Beijing, the political cover to invite the Chinese to the conference. Moreover, most analysts and observers think the ban in this case was ill-advised. As Geoff Marcy, the well-known astronomy professor at Berkeley, noted, “The meeting is about planets located trillions of miles away, with no national security implications.”
Is that so? “No, the PLA is not going to invade exoplanets in the Andromeda system, but the PLA is very interested in deep space,” analyst Rick Fisher, referring to the Chinese military by its initials, tells PJ Media. “Knowledge of deep space dynamics and operations is viewed by the PLA as necessary for ‘space control.’”
Marcy may know much about the heavens — he is said to be in line for a Nobel Prize, after all — but he could use a brush-up on China. “There is no such thing as a non-military related space program or non-military affected space researcher in China,” notes Fisher, a senior fellow of the International Assessment and Strategy Center and widely followed China military expert. “If the PLA wanted to use any of the insights that Chinese scientists gained from the Kepler Conference, those Chinese scientists would comply immediately.”
China, not surprisingly, is trying to seize the high ground of space for military purposes, but what is of special concern is that it is willing to use aggressive tactics to do so. Since at least 2006, for instance, the PLA has lasered American reconnaissance satellites to blind them, acts constituting attacks on the U.S. At the time, Washington publicly said nothing about these hostile moves and continued helping the Chinese space program as if nothing had happened.
And why are these laser incidents significant? If Beijing ever were to launch a surprise attack on the U.S. — something the People’s Liberation Army thinks about — it would almost certainly begin with it trying to destroy, blind, or otherwise disable American satellites.
Washington, for the most part, is unconcerned. For instance, Bolden, the NASA administrator, visited Beijing in September to speak with the Chinese about their space efforts. Then, Bai Chunli, president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, talked about how China and NASA were cooperating on space geodesy, which involves the three-dimensional measurement of earth and has, incidentally, military applications. As Fisher, the military analyst, tells us, “As the top leader of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Bai Chunli is perhaps one of the most important individuals responsible for making sure China’s scientific sector serves to advance China’s military sector.”
Unfortunately, almost everything about space has a military aspect. Just ask the Chinese. As a geodesist at Beihang University, speaking anonymously to the South China Morning Post, said, “We can’t talk about space science without satellites, and we can’t talk about satellites without military-related technology.”
Until Beijing begins a purely civilian space effort, we need to stop all space cooperation with the Chinese, including the exploration of the exoplanets. Unfortunately, even benign-looking research has military applications, and the last thing we should be doing is helping the Chinese militarize the skies above us.