Administration approves controversial export license allowing sensitive space technology transfer to China
The Obama administration recently notified Congress that it has agreed to license exports of sensitive U.S. space technology to China from a U.S. company that was fined in the past for illegally supplying space support that improved Chinese ballistic missiles.
The State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls, the unit that licenses exports of sensitive technology, notified House and Senate leaders on Wednesday of plans to go ahead with an export license for a deal between Space Systems/Loral and AsiaSat, a company owned in part by a Chinese state-run investment company linked to past satellite deals in the 1990s.
Additionally, U.S. government reports indicate that China’s People’s Liberation Army, which is currently engaged in a major space warfare program that involves anti-satellite missiles and lasers, used AsiaSat communications satellites in the past.
An intelligence report produced by the National Air and Space Intelligence Center stated that AsiaSat satellites were used by the People’s Liberation Army for military-related communications.
Documents obtained by the Free Beacon reveal that the Obama administration appeared to ignore two U.S. laws prohibiting space cooperation with China. They include sanctions against selling military goods to China imposed after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre by Chinese military forces, and a 1999 law requiring all space exports to China to be treated as military transfers.
The State Department justified its approval of the Loral license as permitted under the 1992 U.S.-Hong Kong Policy Act, which the department said exempts Hong Kong from other U.S. laws restricting exports of space technology and defense goods to China. The British colony reverted to Beijing control in 1997.
Because of close ties between Chinese civilian and military space development, there is a “high likelihood that space-related items and technology will be diverted from a civil use and applied to military programs,” under relaxed U.S. export controls, the report said.
“As China advances in operational space capabilities, it is actively focusing on how to destroy, disrupt, or deny U.S. access to our own space assets,” the report said.
The report said China is building several new classes of offensive missiles, upgrading older missile systems, and “developing space-based methods to counter ballistic missile defenses of the United States and our allies, including anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons.”
Regarding space technology transfer, the report said: “Inadvertent or deliberate transfer of space-related expertise poses the most significant potential harm to U.S. national interests.”
Richard Fisher, a specialist on Chinese military affairs, said he is opposed to loosening controls on space technology transfer to China.
“We do not have a required level of transparency with China’s overall space program to be relaxing rules sufficient to enable commercial cooperation,” said Fisher, with the International Assessment and Strategy Center.
“We are still not able to assure that U.S. technology will somehow assist some future Chinese space weapon,” he said. “China still laughs at our efforts to promote such transparency.”