Status Report

2019 Report to Congress of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission

By SpaceRef Editor
November 24, 2019
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Executive Summary

Full Report

Section 3: China’s Ambitions in Space: Contesting the Final Frontier – 359

  • Key Findings – 359 
  • Recommendations – 360 
  • Introduction – 361 
  • National Rejuvenation and a “Space Dream” – 362 
  • Space Program Supports Geopolitical and Economic Goals – 368 
  • Space as the “Commanding Heights” of Future Military Conflict – 379 
  • Implications for the United States – 383


Key Findings

– China’s goal to establish a leading position in the economic and military use of outer space, or what Beijing calls its “space dream,” is a core component of its aim to realize the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” In pursuit of this goal, China has dedicated high-level attention and ample funding to catch up to and eventually surpass other spacefaring countries in terms of space-related industry, technology, diplomacy, and military power. If plans hold to launch its first long-term space station module in 2020, it will have matched the United States’ nearly 40-year progression from first human spaceflight to first space station module in less than 20 years.

– China views space as critical to its future security and economic interests due to its vast strategic and economic potential. Moreover, Beijing has specific plans not merely to explore space, but to industrially dominate the space within the moon’s orbit of Earth. China has invested significant resources in exploring the national security and economic value of this area, including its potential for space-based manufacturing, resource extraction, and power generation, although experts differ on the feasibility of some of these activities.

– Beijing uses its space program to advance its terrestrial geopolitical objectives, including cultivating customers for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), while also using diplomatic ties to advance its goals in space, such as by establishing an expanding network of overseas space ground stations. China’s promotion of launch services, satellites, and the Beidou global navigation system under its “Space Silk Road” is deepening participants’ reliance on China for space-based services.

– China is taking steps to establish a commanding position in the commercial launch and satellite sectors relying in part on aggressive state-backed financing that foreign market-driven companies cannot match. China has already succeeded in undercutting some U.S. and other foreign launch and satellite providers in the international market, threatening to hollow out these countries’ space industrial bases.

– The emergence of China’s indigenous space sector has been an early and notable success of Beijing’s military-civil fusion strategy. The aggressive pursuit of foreign technology and talent gained through joint research and other means, especially from the United States and its allies and partners, continues to be central to this strategy and to China’s space development goals in general.

– The Chinese government and military use Hong Kong-based companies to exploit legal loopholes and uneven enforcement in U.S. export controls to gain access to space capabilities which U.S. law prohibits Beijing from purchasing outright. Collaboration with foreign universities, including in the United States, is another important avenue in China’s drive to acquire space technology. Chinese students enrolled in foreign science, technology, engineering, and mathematics programs are treated like employees of China’s defense industrial base, with defense enterprises regularly funding their studies in return for service commitments following graduation.

– China views space as a critical U.S. military and economic vulnerability, and has fielded an array of direct-ascent, cyber, electromagnetic, and co-orbital counterspace weapons capable of targeting nearly every class of U.S. space asset. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has also developed doctrinal concepts for the use of these weapons encouraging escalatory attacks against an adversary’s space systems early in a conflict, threat- ening to destabilize the space domain. It may be difficult for the United States to deter Beijing from using these weapons due to China’s belief the United States has a greater vulnerability in space.


– Congress direct the National Space Council to develop a strategy to ensure the United States remains the preeminent space power in the face of growing competition from China and Russia, including the production of an unclassified report with a classified annex including the following:

  • A long-term economic space resource policy strategy, including an assessment of the viability of extraction of space-based precious minerals, onsite exploitation of space-based natural resources, and space-based solar power. It would also include a comparative assessment of China’s programs related to these issues.
  • An assessment of U.S. strategic interests in or relating to cis-lunar space.
  • An assessment of the U.S. Department of Defense’s current ability to guarantee the protection of commercial communications and navigation in space from China’s growing counterspace capabilities, and any actions required to improve this capability.
  • A plan to create a space commodities exchange to ensure the United States drives the creation of international standards for interoperable commercial space capabilities.
  • A plan to streamline and strengthen U.S. cooperation with allies and partners in space.
  • An interagency strategy to defend U.S. supply chains and manufacturing capacity critical to competitiveness in space.

– Congress direct the U.S. Department of Defense to take the following steps to ensure it is prepared to counter China’s and Russia’s destabilizing approach to military operations in space:

  •  Ensure U.S. Space Command and any future space-oriented service are responsible for protecting freedom of navigation and keeping lines of communication open, safe, and secure in the space domain, as the U.S. Navy does for U.S. interests in the maritime commons.
  •  Strengthen the credibility of U.S. deterrence in space by fully integrating the space domain into policy, training, and exercises.
  •  Ensure that programs designed to increase survivability, redundancy, reusability, resilience, rapid replacement, and dis- aggregation of critical U.S. space assets receive continued support, including those programs ordered in the National Defense Authorization Act for 2019 Title XVI, Subtitle A.

– Congress urge the Administration to actively participate in international space governance institutions to shape their development in a way that suits the interests of the United States and its allies and partners and to strengthen U.S. engagement with key coalitional allies and partners in the space domain.

SpaceRef staff editor.