Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Make outer space safe for all

By Li Hong (China Daily) Updated: 2011-08-03 07:52

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.

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