US Space Command Calls Out Lack of Chinese Transparency in Space

Written by staff writer.

The Deputy Commander of the US Space Command has called out the Chinese for their lack of transparency in the space domain. Lt. Gen. John E. Shaw says the Chinese wall of silence is the biggest hurdle to other nations knowing what is happening in the space domain.

“The biggest dynamic right now in our relationship with China concerning space is a lack of communication and virtually zero transparency,” he told the Secure World Foundation’s Summit for Space Sustainability in New York on June 14.

“The Secretary of Defense recently said that the lack of communication and interaction can lead to miscommunication, misperception, and misinterpretation, and then things that could go wrong – and that can happen in any domain.”

SpaceX founder Elon Musk recently said that the Chinese space program is far more advanced than most people think. China is developing a robust space robotics program and recently announced a commitment to putting Chinese astronauts on the Moon by 2030. In the past 12 months, they have built a manned space station, landed a rover on Mars, and went to the far side of the Moon. Paralleling the US Artemis program, the Chinese want to set up a base on the Moon and send a human-crewed mission to Mars.

Shaw says the US Space Command wants to communicate with their Chinese counterparts, but they hit a brick wall. “When there are conjunctions with Chinese (space) platforms, we email them, but we never get a response. Even the Russians know how to communicate with us. They may not always do it and may not always be responsible for actions, but at least you know about it.”

When comparing Russian and Chinese transparency levels around space, Shaw says the Russians understand it, “but we don’t have anything like that with the Chinese, and that’s the biggest hindrance to transparency in the space domain. As they progress further into that domain, we need to talk.”

The Deputy Commander concedes that there is always a trade-off between transparency and national security in the space domain. “You protect your information against an adversary that will exploit it,” he told the Summit. “But we need to find the right balance between that and the sharing of what’s actually happening in the space environment.”

Shaw also acknowledges the increased militarization of space, in which, like the Chinese, the US Space Command and US Space Force play a prominent role. He talks about the prospects of “bad days” in space but says if the US Space Command is doing its job right, that bad day should never come.

“That’s another reason why you have the United States in space,” he says. “If other nations are going to threaten us in space, we will not just ignore it and hope it goes away. That approach hasn’t fared well in any kind of historical military context, and it wouldn’t fare well in space.”

Shaw says opening the lines of communication with the Chinese space sector would result in a safer space domain and a more secure world.


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