What's the future of US-China cooperation in space?

One of the few specific space policy provisions included in the final continuing resolution that funds the federal government through the rest of fiscal year 2011 has to do with cooperation with China-or, rather, prohibiting cooperation with China. The CR prevents NASA and OSTP from using any funds to "develop, design, plan, promulgate, implement, or execute a bilateral policy, program, order, or contract of any kind to participate, collaborate, or coordinate bilaterally in any way with China or any Chinese-owned company" unless specifically authorized in a future law. That also prevents NASA from using any funds "to effectuate the hosting of official Chinese visitors at facilities belonging to or utilized by" the space agency. That would appear to put the brakes on any prospects for cooperation with China, at least through this fiscal year. However, in testimony before the CJS subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, OSTP director John Holdren suggested that the administration has found a "loophole" in that ban, according to ScienceNow. The White House has concluded, he said, that the provision doesn't extend to "prohibiting interactions that are part of the president's constitutional authority to conduct negotiations." That includes, he said, a bilateral agreement on scientific cooperation between the two countries that dates back to 1979. Holdren, Space News reported, has pragmatic reasons for seeking cooperation with China on space exploration in particular, including a future human expedition to Mars. "If China is going to be, by 2030, the biggest economy in the world… it could certainly be to our benefit to share the costs of such an expensive venture with them and with others," he said. That did not sit well with some members of the subcommittee, including chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA), who has been very critical of China, in particular its human-rights record. An "irate" Wolf, as described by Space News, criticized the idea of Sino-American space cooperation, "repeatedly pounding a hand against the table top in front of him." However, according to ScienceNow, Wolf appeared to accept Holdren's constitutional explanation, asking for consultation on "a case-by-case basis" when any administration dealing with China might conflict with the law. By contrast, Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), another subcommittee member, was not assuaged at all by Holdren's statements, warning Holdren that "you're endangering your funding and NASA's funding" by contemplating any cooperation with China. "You have a huge problem on your hands."

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