OpEd: Dangers of Chinese Satellite Technology

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  Space News Business

OpEd: Dangers of Chinese Satellite Technology

By REP. DANA ROHRABACHER (R-CALIF.)

posted: 23 April 2009
02:10 pm ET





The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is a bit like chaos theory – a small transfer of technology from the West to Beijing becomes a ballistic missile launch in Iran or North Korea.

Rising concerns over the Chinese actively stealing classified weapons technology in the 1980s and 1990s prompted Congress to establish the House Select Committee on U.S. National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns with the People’s Republic of China, more commonly known as the Cox Commission. In 1999, the groundbreaking Cox report chronicled how transfers of U.S. technology to the Communist Chinese gave China the edge needed to perfect its missiles. Before American satellite companies ill-advisedly helped China troubleshoot its launch failures, the Long March family of rockets had an abysmal record. So bad was the Long March program, that hundreds (possibly thousands) of villagers living near China’s Xichang launch facility were killed by errant rockets that failed shortly after liftoff.

Thanks to those illegal technology transfers, the Long March has had no failures since then. Chinese launch savvy is now good enough to threaten people well beyond Xichang. Moreover, this success has emboldened China to tutor, covertly and openly, other rogue nations like North Korea and Iran.

Make no mistake, China’s eager pupils are making the most of this partnership. Last month, Iran succeeded in orbiting its Omid satellite, and North Korea threatened war if the United States or anyone else, interfered with its recent alleged satellite launch – many believe it was a long-range missile test.

Considering the mere short step from launching a satellite to launching a nuclear payload, these are terrifying developments. Both Israel and Japan are acutely aware of the dual-use implications of satellite launch capability and have been urging the West to stop Iran and North Korea from going any further with their so-called space programs. Let us not forget the Chinese military, the People’s Liberation Army, believes war with the United States is “inevitable,” views us as “the main enemy” and now possesses missile technology capable of hitting American cities.

So what is the United States doing about this threat? It appears the current administration is allowing the problem to get worse. To the mystification of all, in June of 2008, the State Department dropped sanctions against the China Great Wall Industry Corp., maker of the Long March rocket family. China Great Wall’s launch operations are controlled by the People’s Liberation Army, and their international launch services are conducted in support of the geopolitical aims of the Chinese Communist Party. Over the years, the U.S. government has sanctioned China Great Wall on many occasions for being a serial proliferator of weapons to Iran, North Korea, Syria and Pakistan, among others. Why would we now lift sanctions on a proliferator who has enabled Iran to successfully fire long-range missiles capable of hitting Israel and other American allies in the Middle East and Central Asia? Paris-based Eutelsat and the Franco-Italian Thales-Alenia space, despite their technology transfers to China, have been awarded billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars’ worth of State and Defense Department contracts. These same companies recently boasted about signing deals with the Chinese to launch “ITAR-free” satellites – which are satellites without any U.S. components and therefore not subject to U.S. export laws under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) – for cut-rate launches on Chinese rockets. Eutelsat and Thales are doing essentially what American companies Hughes and Loral were punished for doing a decade ago, helping the Chinese improve their launch capabilities.

These cheap launches undermine our national security in several ways. First, subsidized Chinese launches erode our industrial base by underselling our market-based launch companies, such as Orbital Sciences Corp., Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) and the United Launch Alliance. Second, European companies are providing the Chinese military with wide avenues for stealing even more western technology, and may be providing openings for espionage through Defense Department contracting.

Finally, and, perhaps most dangerously, Eutelsat and Thales are giving the Chinese more opportunities to improve their family of launch systems, making China’s missiles even more effective and capable of hitting cities in the United States. Practice makes perfect.

The solution?
The U.S. government should put an immediate end to this practice by telling European satellite companies to cease and desist or lose their U.S. government contracts.

In the absence of any leadership from the administration, Congress should address this threat as it did in 1998 with the bipartisan Cox Commission. Congress has already ordered the Department of Defense to issue several reports detailing the national security threat that companies like Thales pose. The House Committee on Foreign Affairs also convened a hearing on satellite export control reform earlier this month. This is a good start, but more needs to be done to wake our country up to the growing threat to the United States and our allies in Asia and the Middle East, posed by Communist China.

In order for reform to be successful, we must have both the foresight and the hindsight to understand that an aerospace partnership with China, a militaristic dictatorship and the world’s worst human rights abuser, may mean quick profit while putting America and our allies in jeopardy.

Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (R-Calif.) is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House Science and Technology space and aeronautics subcommittee.