Nations hail exchange of space science info

10:29, November 18, 2009      

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China and the United States yesterday said they will open a dialogue on space cooperation, a move experts say will increase understanding and benefit both sides in the long run.

A joint statement released by President Hu Jintao and visiting US President Barack Obama said the two countries "look forward to expanding discussions on space science cooperation and starting a dialogue on human space flight and space exploration".

"Both sides welcome reciprocal visits of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) administrator and the appropriate Chinese counterpart in 2010," the document said.

Pang Zhihao, a senior researcher with the China Academy of Space Technology, said cooperation is a trend that benefits everyone.

"But space cooperation is very complicated and is never restricted to space technology alone," he said.

Space technology comes with high risks and returns, and cooperation will help reduce the risks, Pang said.

"There are only a handful of countries strong enough to venture into space, but each of them does so with a different agenda," another senior expert said on condition of anonymity.

"For China, American space technology is far more advanced and worth studying. The US, meanwhile, doesn't want to be in a place where it and China know nothing about each other," he said.

"That's the main reason the two sides released such a statement," the source said.

The joint statement vowed to facilitate cooperation based on the principles of transparency, reciprocity and mutual benefit.

Issues relating to all three of these principles have led to barriers in bilateral space cooperation, according to Dean Cheng, a research fellow in Chinese political and security affairs at the Heritage Foundation.

"Almost any technology or information that is exchanged in a cooperative venture is likely to have military utility. Sharing such information with China, therefore, would undercut American tactical and technological military advantages," he wrote in an analysis for the foundation late last month.

"There is a general disparity in technology between the US and China. Under such circumstances, reciprocity would likely benefit the Chinese side far more than the US side," he wrote.

"Covering funding shortfalls seems to be the only tangible motivation for the US, and even that prospect is not promising," Cheng wrote, adding that the cooperation "has far more potential cost than benefit" for the US.

Michael Griffin became the first NASA administrator to visit China three years ago as a result of talks between Hu and then US president George W. Bush. But relevant Chinese authorities have not made a reciprocal visit.
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