US excludes China from satellite deal

By Yang Jingjie Source:Global Times Published: 2013-1-7 9:03:47

The Chinese government and aerospace industry have called on the US to stop politicizing Sino-US space cooperation and allow China access to commercial launch services, after new revisions to US satellite export control rules once again barred the emerging space power from obtaining US satellites.

US President Barack Obama Thursday signed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013, which included a section on the removal of satellites and related items from the US Munitions List with the aim of stimulating the commercial space sector.

However, the relaxation of export controls shut China out by stipulating that no satellites or related items may be exported, re-exported or transferred to China, North Korea or any country that is a state sponsor of terrorism. It prohibits satellites or related items from being launched in those countries, and prohibits those countries from using these items in their launch vehicles. Only the president could waive the prohibition on a case-by-case basis.

In response, China expressed grave concern.

Shen Danyang, spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce, said Saturday that despite US promises that the reform of the export control system would benefit Beijing and boost US exports of high-tech equipment to China, the US in fact took measures to continue containing Sino-US cooperation in civilian-use satellites.

"China is very disappointed and dissatisfied," said Shen, adding that China hopes the US will stop discriminating against it.

Sino-US cooperation in commercial satellite launches ceased after June 1999, when the US tightened its export controls following the Cox Report, which accused China of "illegally obtaining" US space technology.

Fu Zhiheng, a vice president of the China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC), told the Global Times that Sino-US commercial space cooperation was active throughout the 1990s, during which CGWIC successfully launched 26 US satellites into space.

"With six launches of Iridium communications satellites by our Long March launch vehicles, we played an important role in the building of the US network," said Fu, listing a number of other US partners such as Hughes and EchoStar.

Despite a ban on satellite exports to China in the early 1990s, former US presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton all authorized launches in China during their tenures citing national interests.

"The Obama administration has made repeated promises to relax high-tech export controls. But it turns out that it has been the strictest," Zhou Shijian, a senior researcher with the Center for US-China Relations at Tsinghua University, told the Global Times.

The new rules proposed by some right-wing legislators have in fact labeled China as "an enemy" of the US, Zhou said, noting that even during the Cold War era, the US didn't stop space cooperation with the former Soviet Union.

Over the past 14 years, export controls haven't stopped China's space advancements. In 2011 and 2012, China's Long March carriers made 19 launches each year, well ahead of the launches by the US.

According to Fu, since 2005, the CGWIC has carried out 16 international commercial launches, winning international contracts courtesy of low costs and high reliability.

In the most recent commercial launch in December 2012, a Long March launcher sent Turkish earth observation satellite GK-2 into orbit.

Egemen Imre, chief engineer of Satellite Systems Design Group under the Turkey-based space institute TUBITAK UZAY, told the Global Times Sunday that the Chinese company presented the best offer in terms of technical merit and costs to win the tender, and regarded the launch as "very successful."

A report by the Aerospace Industries Association showed the global share of US satellite exports dropped from 73 percent in 1995 to 25 percent in 2005, which Zhou said was partly due to the prohibition of launches in China.

While appealing for US market access, Fu further noted that Chinese companies wouldn't pose any threat or bring any competition to US commercial launch companies.

Data from the Satellite Industry Association showed 70 percent of US launch revenues came from government contracts.

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