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NATO acknowledges China ‘challenges’ on Earth; What about space?

The European Space Agency’s Mars Express, orbiting Mars since 2003, was a backup communications relay for China's recent Tianwen-1 Mars orbiter and lander mission.
FPI / June 9, 2021

By Richard Fisher

Turning a new corner, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) now recognizes China poses a major “challenge” on Earth, but not yet a “threat.”

How, on the other hand, will it respond to China’s challenge in space?

European space officials rarely explore the contradictions of their cooperation with a Chinese space program that is controlled by the People’s Liberation Army and designed to advance Chinese Communist Party (CCP) goals for hegemony on Earth.

A June 14 communique issued following a Summit of NATO leaders stated:

“China's stated ambitions and assertive behavior present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and to areas relevant to Alliance security. We are concerned by those coercive policies which stand in contrast to the fundamental values enshrined in the Washington Treaty.”

It further stated, “China is rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal with more warheads and a larger number of sophisticated delivery systems to establish a nuclear triad. It is opaque in implementing its military modernization and its publicly declared military-civil fusion strategy. It is also cooperating militarily with Russia, including through participation in Russian exercises in the Euro-Atlantic area. We remain concerned with China’s frequent lack of transparency and use of disinformation.”

Then in a press conference before the Summit, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg temporized a bit, saying, “We're not entering a new Cold War and China is not our adversary, not our enemy, but we need to address together as an Alliance, the challenges that the rise of China poses to our security.”

Regarding space, in the early 1980s France provided China insights, perhaps even sold technology relating to its uncompleted Hermes small space plane project, which then influenced multiple Chinese small space plane projects.

In the late 1990s Britain’s innovative micro-satellite maker Surrey co-produced a microsatellite with China, helping start its microsatellite sector.

Later, China was a partner in developing the European Gallileo navigation satellite system. But it soon ended its participation, reportedly, because it gathered enough insights to begin its own Beidou navigation satellite system.

In a post Summit press conference, Stoltenberg addressed the possibility of NATO responding to an attack in space:

“I think it is important that our Article Five, which states that an attack on one will be regarded as an attack on all, that we all will respond, that we have a consistent approach to that, over all our domains, air, sea, land, but also cyber and space, and we will make it clear at this Summit that of course, any attack, on space capabilities like satellites and so on, or attacks from space will… could trigger Article Five.”

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