Make outer space safe for all

Updated: 2011-08-03 07:52

By Li Hong (China Daily)

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Make outer space safe for all

Gregory L. Schulte, US deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy, recently told reporters that the United States has proposed to establish regular dialogue with China in an effort to create rules and reduce the risk of accidents and miscalculations in outer space.

Security in outer space has long been an issue of concern in the global arms control process. Since the late 1990s, China, Russia and some other countries have urged the international community to hold multilateral dialogue to prevent weaponization of outer space, and put forward specific proposals for concluding an international treaty to prevent an arms race in outer space.

But the US has been using every reason to refuse negotiating such a treaty for fear that it may restrict it from maintaining and developing its outer space anti-missile system and compromise its space military technology. Some US conservatives are convinced that the US can use its system and resources to maintain its dominance in space and it is unnecessary for it to hold talks with other countries, because they are quite inferior in terms of using space for military purposes. Hence, the US has been emphasizing freedom in the use of outer space. In essence, it wants to establish its hegemony over outer space.

During the first decade of this century, China achieved many a breakthrough in outer space technology such as launching manned space flights, performing spacewalk, establishing the Beidou navigation system, and conducting anti-satellite and anti-ballistic missile tests. Stung by the financial crisis, the US, however, has been forced to restrict the development of its outer space technology and end its space shuttle program. These can be seen as a setback for US space technology development.

More importantly, the US has realized that its advantage in outer space is facing serious challenges, and the gap between it and other countries is narrowing. This can mean only one thing: the US has to change its outer space security policy.

The US has issued the National Space Policy and National Security Space Policy. Both emphasize space technology cooperation with its allies and dialogue with Russia, China and other countries to prevent "irresponsible" acts in space.

But it should be noted that the US seeks to cooperate with its allies to integrate and use their resources, which would make up for its lack of investment and help it retain its leadership in space technology. The talks it wants would be focused on its two potential competitors, Russia and China, to regulate and constrain their development and prevent them from challenging US hegemony in space. This is typical Cold War mentality. The US' eagerness to establish dialogue with China reflects its uncertainty over space security challenges.

Until now, international laws and rules of conduct have been laid out on navigation and traffic on land and sea, and in the air. But since human activities in space are becoming increasingly frequent, it is in the interest of all countries to establish a new framework of international laws on and norms for the use of outer space.

It is thus incumbent on all countries to hold consultations and discussions to eliminate debris from space, prevent satellite collisions, and ensure reasonable allocation of resources and establishment of a code of conduct. And it is absolutely necessary that the needs and concerns of all countries using space be considered in full. It is also necessary to guarantee universal participation and consensus through consultations while formulating space norms.

In this sense, the US' willingness to talk with Russia and China is welcome. But the US should recognize that talks on space security are related to the interests of all countries and the formulation of international laws and rules of conduct should not be monopolized by some powers.

During the coordination and dialogue process, big powers should more actively promote multilateral dialogue and cooperation under the United Nations' framework. Truly effective and generally accepted international rules on space can be established only if they are based on equal participation of all countries.

China has always advocated peaceful use of space. Over the next few decades, the Chinese government's focus will be on developing the national economy and improving the livelihoods of more than 1.3 billion Chinese people. China has to develop its defense capabilities in space but will avoid being involved in an arms race in outer space.

China has been urging the international community to sign a treaty to prevent weaponization of and an arms race in outer space, maintain the peaceful use of space and create a peaceful international environment that would help China's economic and social development.

China pursues a defensive defense strategy, has no intention of estab lishing "hegemony" and doesn't believe in or pursue absolute security. Instead, it promotes common safety through mutually beneficial cooperation. Hence, even if China becomes capable of contending with the US in overall strength in the future, it will remember the erstwhile Soviet Union's experience to desist from engaging in an arms race in space with the US.

That Washington wants to establish dialogue with Beijing on space shows that the US is concerned about the direction and intention of China's space strategy. China should understand the US' concern and respond openly and confidently. China has always wanted dialogue and opposed confrontation, so it will never reject an offer of dialogue. But the dialogue should be based on equality and mutual respect.

The US' policies and legal frameworks, including arms sales to Taiwan, high-tech exports restrictions on China and non-use of Chinese rockets to launch US satellites seriously undermine the political foundation of China-US dialogue on space.

Besides carrying out such dialogue, China and the US should promote pragmatic cooperation in space and make exchanges of space-related information part of their bilateral talks' mechanism, for the differences in Beijing's defensive defense strategy and Washington's deterrent strategy have created a gap between the extents of transparency of the two countries' militaries.

The author is secretary-general of China Arms Control and Disarmament Association.

(China Daily 08/03/2011 page9)