Canadian Space Agency (CSA) President Steve MacLean is in China to for exploratory meetings on future possible cooperation between the countries. Last week he visited the China National Space Administration (CNSA) where he met with CNSA Administrator Chen Qiufa. He also met Zheng Guoguang, Administrator of the China Meteorological Administration. After his visit to China MacLean will visit Russia to participate in the commemorative ceremony scheduled for April 12th on the 50th anniversary of humanities first flight into space by Russia’s Yuri Gagarin. The visit to China comes at a time when US-China space relations are in flux as some members of congress, mostly republicans, oppose cooperation with China. According to Wade Huntley, a Senior Lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School there is an opportunity for Canada to be a facilitator between US-China space relations.
Huntley is the author of a recently released paper titled Canada-China Space Engagement: Opportunities and Prospects from the Canadian International Council, a non-partisan research council established to strengthen Canada’s foreign policy.
Huntley describes Canada as a “moderate power”, that being a country that has a “highly developed industrial/information economy and standards of living, but its relatively small population limits the absolute global impact of its qualitatively high capabilities.” Relative to other moderate powers Huntley says Canada’s space accomplishments stand out but that they are dependant upon continuing opportunities for cooperation with other countries.
Huntley describes Canada as building effective space partnerships as the cornerstone of Canada’s space activities of which the most important partnership is that with the US. And because of Canada’s record of cooperation with other countries other than the US and including China, this may provide a foundation as a facilitator.
Huntley see two categories for future Canadian initiatives with respect to US-China space relations. The bilateral Canada-China relationship on space, and how development of that relationship would bear on US-China engagement indirectly and secondly how Canada could help facilitate the US-China relationship directly.
There are obstacles, notably the US International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) which restricts transfers of technologies and information. These export controls have a serious impact on Canadian business according to Michael Minero who wrote in the journal Space Policy “US export controls place restrictions on Canada’s freedom and independence to collaborate internationally if US-origin parts are involved.”
Huntley then goes on to describe how Canada could act as a facilitator and says that a window of opportunity is now opening and that Canada could act on it.
“Canada could productively operate in two facilitative modes: as a convening force and as an innovation source. To operate as a convening force means to provide the venue and forum within which the principal agents may better advance their engagement. It does not mean to be a “mediator,” which would be a direct rather than facilitative role. It may mean providing a nurturing environment for low-key meetings or other expert exchanges at either official or Track Two diplomatic levels. But operating as a convening force can be less direct as well. For example, in pursuing project cooperation with China, Canada might prioritize initiatives that would also enable a US role (perhaps more remotely, perhaps not immediately) or at least have Canada-US counterpart initiatives. Such a focus would be especially useful in areas in which direct US-China engagement is most problematic, such as in inter-military contacts or analysis of longer-term prospects for military uses of space.”
Huntley concludes that future space activities between the US and China revolve around two basic elements. The first is that the US and China face a security dilemma with respect to encounters on the military use of space and secondly that the US and China sometimes dangerously misunderstand each others intentions and fail to communicate effectively. Canada as a moderate power, with a long history of partnership building, is well positioned to act as a facilitator being that it is well acquainted with managing security dilemmas and overcoming communication obstacles.
Considering that China is holding about $1.1 trillion of the US debt, which is about 10% of the total debt, it would seem in the best interest of both countries to work cooperatively in space. Perhaps MacLean’s current visit to China is the beginning of greater cooperation between the two countries which can lead to Canada acting as a facilitator in US-China space relations while at the same time building on Canada’s interests.