Beijing Attacks the US for Endangering China’s Space Station With Baseless Accusations

Commentary The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) accused SpaceX’s Starlink satellites for endangering China’s space station on two occasions last year, but the United States refuted its claims. Starlink is a satellite internet constellation operated by SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk. Beijing submitted a diplomatic correspondence to the United Nations last December, which claimed that the Chinese Space Station experienced two close encounters with SpaceX Starlink satellites in July (Starlink-1095) and October (Starlink-2305) of last year. And “for safety reasons, the China Space Station implemented preventive collision avoidance control” measures. On Jan. 28, 2022, the United States sent a note verbale to the U.N. Secretary-General, which refuted the CCP’s claims and laid out the U.S. framework to ensure the safety of spaceflight. The dispute continued as the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, said at a press briefing on Feb. 10, 2022, that the United States is “shirking responsibility.” Given the information from the U.S. note verbale to the U.N. and the Outer Space Treaty, it seems that Zhao concealed the facts, took things out of context, and misled public opinion. Concealment of Facts Zhao skirted around the contents of the note and failed to mention the following statements by the United States: “Since November 2014, the United States has provided spaceflight safety information to the Government of China, including emergency notifications of high-risk collision hazards between crewed and robotic Chinese spacecraft and other space objects. “As noted in the United States Space Priorities Framework released on 1 December 2021, the United States will continue to share space situational awareness information and provide basic spaceflight safety services to all space operators. “In cases where a potential collision hazard is calculated, the United States Space Command—through the United States Space Force’s 18th Space Control Squadron—provides relevant analysis to all affected spacecraft operators, including to China, to support their decisions on collision-avoidance manoeuvres.” The outer space has become a busy intersection with no traffic lights. As a leading space power, the United States has provided services to the international community. And the CCP, as one of the beneficiaries of the service, has yet to express its gratitude. A photo that shows the point of view of the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft approaching the Tiangong-1 space station on July 18, 2012. China officially declared it lost control over the space station on March 21, 2016. (STR/AFP/Getty Images) Beijing Attacks US Safety Standards There is no international standard for the early warning of an emergency collision. Instead of actively promoting international cooperation, the CCP aired its grievances against the United States. Regarding the CCP’s claim that the Starlink satellites came too close to China’s space station, the United States pointed out that “The United States Space Command did not estimate a significant probability of collision between the China Space Station and the referenced United States spacecraft.” “Because the activities did not meet the threshold of established emergency collision criteria, emergency notifications were not warranted in either case.” “If there had been a significant probability of collision involving the China Space Station, the United States would have provided a close approach notification directly to the designated Chinese point of contact,” the note verbale reads. Given the U.S. track record of providing China with an “emergency notification of high-risk collision,” its statements are credible. According to The Space Review, “the United States has developed one of, if not the most, robust and transparent regulatory regimes governing space activities in the world. This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that the Chinese were able to specifically identify the satellites they had to avoid in the Note Verbale. China acknowledged it knew of the path of both Starlink satellites, leading to the collision-avoidance maneuver. Zhao, however, insisted that China’s space station and astronauts faced real danger. “The US claim that those satellite activities did not meet the threshold of established emergency collision criteria […] is not the responsible attitude of a major aerospace power, not to mention that the US has no right to unilaterally set a lower limit for emergency collision standards,” he said. Was such a safety standard set by the CCP and does it have international credibility? Given that the CCP does not provide outer space safety service, it seems to be “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”—a vague charge that it often uses to suppress dissenters—with the United States. Complaints With an Underlying Motive China became the third country to launch a crewed spacecraft into space in 2003, and has been expanding its space program. It released a white paper in Jan

Beijing Attacks the US for Endangering China’s Space Station With Baseless Accusations

Commentary

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) accused SpaceX’s Starlink satellites for endangering China’s space station on two occasions last year, but the United States refuted its claims.

Starlink is a satellite internet constellation operated by SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk.

Beijing submitted a diplomatic correspondence to the United Nations last December, which claimed that the Chinese Space Station experienced two close encounters with SpaceX Starlink satellites in July (Starlink-1095) and October (Starlink-2305) of last year. And “for safety reasons, the China Space Station implemented preventive collision avoidance control” measures.

On Jan. 28, 2022, the United States sent a note verbale to the U.N. Secretary-General, which refuted the CCP’s claims and laid out the U.S. framework to ensure the safety of spaceflight.

The dispute continued as the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, said at a press briefing on Feb. 10, 2022, that the United States is “shirking responsibility.”

Given the information from the U.S. note verbale to the U.N. and the Outer Space Treaty, it seems that Zhao concealed the facts, took things out of context, and misled public opinion.

Concealment of Facts

Zhao skirted around the contents of the note and failed to mention the following statements by the United States:

“Since November 2014, the United States has provided spaceflight safety information to the Government of China, including emergency notifications of high-risk collision hazards between crewed and robotic Chinese spacecraft and other space objects.

“As noted in the United States Space Priorities Framework released on 1 December 2021, the United States will continue to share space situational awareness information and provide basic spaceflight safety services to all space operators.

“In cases where a potential collision hazard is calculated, the United States Space Command—through the United States Space Force’s 18th Space Control Squadron—provides relevant analysis to all affected spacecraft operators, including to China, to support their decisions on collision-avoidance manoeuvres.”

The outer space has become a busy intersection with no traffic lights. As a leading space power, the United States has provided services to the international community. And the CCP, as one of the beneficiaries of the service, has yet to express its gratitude.

Epoch Times Photo
A photo that shows the point of view of the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft approaching the Tiangong-1 space station on July 18, 2012. China officially declared it lost control over the space station on March 21, 2016. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Beijing Attacks US Safety Standards

There is no international standard for the early warning of an emergency collision. Instead of actively promoting international cooperation, the CCP aired its grievances against the United States.

Regarding the CCP’s claim that the Starlink satellites came too close to China’s space station, the United States pointed out that “The United States Space Command did not estimate a significant probability of collision between the China Space Station and the referenced United States spacecraft.”

“Because the activities did not meet the threshold of established emergency collision criteria, emergency notifications were not warranted in either case.”

“If there had been a significant probability of collision involving the China Space Station, the United States would have provided a close approach notification directly to the designated Chinese point of contact,” the note verbale reads.

Given the U.S. track record of providing China with an “emergency notification of high-risk collision,” its statements are credible.

According to The Space Review, “the United States has developed one of, if not the most, robust and transparent regulatory regimes governing space activities in the world. This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that the Chinese were able to specifically identify the satellites they had to avoid in the Note Verbale. China acknowledged it knew of the path of both Starlink satellites, leading to the collision-avoidance maneuver.

Zhao, however, insisted that China’s space station and astronauts faced real danger.

“The US claim that those satellite activities did not meet the threshold of established emergency collision criteria […] is not the responsible attitude of a major aerospace power, not to mention that the US has no right to unilaterally set a lower limit for emergency collision standards,” he said.

Was such a safety standard set by the CCP and does it have international credibility?

Given that the CCP does not provide outer space safety service, it seems to be “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”—a vague charge that it often uses to suppress dissenters—with the United States.

Complaints With an Underlying Motive

China became the third country to launch a crewed spacecraft into space in 2003, and has been expanding its space program. It released a white paper in January 2022 outlining its plans and priorities for the next five years.

Jonathan McDowell, a prominent American astronomer and an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said he had never seen a debate about outer space reach such an international level.

McDowell told The Guardian, “Lodging such a complaint through an informational bulletin is unusual because ‘things are just getting a lot busier and a lot more crowded’ in space.”

He added that China was also a big contributor to space junk. The International Space Station “has several times over the past 10 years had to dodge pieces from the Chinese military anti-satellite test of 2007,” and “it’s not like the Chinese had a clean record here. The biggest debris event ever was the Chinese anti-satellite test.”

Article 5 of the Outer Space Treaty states: “States Parties to the Treaty shall immediately inform the other States Parties to the Treaty or the Secretary-General of the United Nations of any phenomena they discover in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, which could constitute a danger to the life or health of astronauts.”

According to article 5, China has the right to inform the U.N. of the situation; however, China should have also communicated and consulted with relevant parties in a timely manner.

The U.S. note verbale clearly states that “The United States is unaware of any contact or attempted contact by China with the United States Space Command, the operators of Starlink-1095 and Starlink-2305 or any other United States entity to share information or concerns about the stated incidents prior to the note verbale from China to the Secretary General.”

Zhao said that “after the incidents, China’s competent authorities tried multiple times to reach the U.S. via email but received no reply.”

Really? Doesn’t the CCP personnel know of any other contact methods? This kind of sophistry really exposes the CCP’s incompetence.

Nevertheless, the United States has provided spaceflight safety information to Beijing since November 2014, including emergency notifications of high-risk collision hazards.

In response to the CCP’s accusations, the U.S. note verbale succinctly states its commitment to the Outer Space Treaty and international cooperation. The work underscores the strength, the responsibility, and the international contribution of the United States as a leading space power.

The CCP’s unreasonable complaints against the United States are meant to confuse and steer public opinion in China’s favor, so it can dominate outer space competition.

But the CCP may not realize that its hooligan face is exposed—shooting itself in the foot again as it attempts to extend its “wolf warrior” diplomacy into outer space.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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Wang He has master’s degrees in law and history, and has studied the international communist movement. He was a university lecturer and an executive of a large private firm in China. Wang now lives in North America and has published commentaries on China’s current affairs and politics since 2017.