Monday, May 5, 2008

Transparency Crucial to Chinese International Space Role

"Space is fundamentally a government business..."

Aviation Week and Space Technology

Craig Covault

China's secrecy-bound space program, increasingly capable of advanced operations, risks becoming an impediment to international, cooperative lunar and planetary exploration unless it becomes far more open, say top international space policy managers meeting with their Chinese counterparts here.

Control by the People's Liberation Army of virtually all Chinese space development will be a counterproductive factor "as the center of gravity for space exploration is beginning to move from the Atlantic to the Pacific," according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

As a result, John Hamre, CSIS chairman, says his organization is beginning a major initiative to promote better international coordination of exploration - starting with China, given the growing Asia-Pacific-region interest in lunar and planetary missions. To that end, CSIS hosted an invitation-only Global Space Development Summit here Apr. 23-25 with about 100 participants, half of them top Chinese officials and half U.S., European and Asian space policy experts or key managers.

"We hope we can start a discussion that will lead at first to ad hoc exploration cooperation for missions beyond Earth and ultimately to the creation of governance structures that will be critical to make exploration sustainable," says Hamre.

Jacques Blamont, a French pioneer in early planetary mission collaboration, especially between France and Russia on Venus missions, recommends that a relatively informal international space governance forum be created to keep pace with new international mission concepts.

Chinese participants said the CSIS forum was one of the highest-level gatherings of civil and military Chinese space officials ever assembled with international counterparts.

The CSIS team offered some pointed advice to the Chinese. Among other things, the team says, China needs to realize that the secrecy and anti-news-media tone used in business deals cannot apply to the international space cooperation planning. In fact, Francois Auque, CEO of EADS Astrium, stressed that space is fundamentally a government business, involving national policy issues that demand broader transparency than the Chinese have been willing to allow whenever cooperation is involved.

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