China's grand ambitions extend literally to the moon, with the country now embarked on a multi-pronged program to establish its own global navigational system, launch a space laboratory and put a Chinese astronaut on the moon within the next decade.
The Obama administration views space as ripe territory for cooperation with China. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has called it one of four potential areas of "strategic dialogue," along with cybersecurity, missile defense and nuclear weapons. And President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao vowed after their White House summit last week to "deepen dialogue and exchanges" in the field. But as China ramps up its space initiatives, the diplomatic talk of cooperation has so far found little traction. The Chinese leadership has shown scant interest in opening up the most sensitive details of its program, much of which is controlled by the People's Liberation Army.
At the same time, Chinese scientists and space officials say that Washington's wariness of China's intentions in space, as well as U.S. bans on some high-technology exports, makes cooperation problematic.
For now, the U.S.-China relationship in space appears to mirror the one on Earth - a still-dominant but fading superpower facing a new and ambitious rival, with suspicion on both sides.
"What you have are two major powers, both of whom use space for military, civilian and commercial purposes," said Dean Cheng, a researcher with the Washington-based Heritage Foundation.
There is "a lot of very wary, careful, mutual watching," Cheng said. Song Xiaojun, a military expert and commentator on China's CCTV, said that
substantial cooperation in the space field is impossible without mutual
trust. Achieving that, he said, "depends on whether the US can put away its pride and treat China as a partner to cooperate on equal terms. But I don't see that happening in the near future, since the US is experiencing menopause while China is going through puberty."
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