New Report: China's Space and Counterspace Activities
(Source: US-China Economic and Security Review Commission; issued May 11, 2020)
Today, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission released a report entitled China's Space and Counterspace Capabilities and Activities, prepared for the Commission by the Project 2049 Institute and Pointe Bello. It examines China's military and civil space programs, including the role of military-civil fusion (MCF) and international cooperation in the development of its space program. The report also addresses Beijing's development and fielding of counterspace capabilities. The full report can be found here.

Key Findings:

-- The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its military force, the People's Liberation Army (PLA), view space as a domain of strategic competition. Beijing is executing a long-term strategy to exploit U.S. technology, talent, and capital to build up its military space and counterspace programs and advance its strategic interests at the expense of the United States. China's zero-sum pursuit of space superiority harms U.S. economic competitiveness, weakens U.S. military advantages, and undermines strategic stability.

-- In the near-term, the focus of China's military space operations is to enable joint operations along China's periphery, although Beijing is also developing capabilities to support PLA operations globally. China views space assets as critical for carrying out a range of joint campaigns including joint firepower strikes, blockades, and a landing operation against Taiwan. In these campaigns, space assets will be used for surveillance, targeting, communications, navigation, and jamming.

-- China possesses and is developing kinetic and non-kinetic counterspace capabilities that pose a strategic risk to the United States' operations in the Indo-Pacific. The PLA's capacity for space and counterspace operations has likely advanced significantly since the consolidation in 2016 of related research, development, acquisition, training, and operations under its new Strategic Support Force. The advent of the Strategic Support Force Space Systems Department represents a more efficient organizational innovation that places all major components of China's military space program under a unified command structure.

-- China may use space research partnerships to transfer technology and know-how back to China, in effect allowing Beijing to circumvent U.S. restrictions on official bilateral space cooperation. For example, Peking University's School of Earth and Space Sciences has international exchange and cooperation programs with universities in the United States, UK, and Canada. Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics also offers joint degree programs in avionics, aviation manufacturing, and aeronautical engineering with universities in the UK and Australia.

-- The PLA manages key components of China's lunar exploration program, including space launch, tracking, and control, and a deep space tracking and communications network comprising multiple overseas stations. The PLA also benefits from the scientific research stemming from investments into the program, while PLA personnel occupy its top leadership positions.

-- Beijing uses what it calls “state-industry innovation alliances” as MCF financing and investment vehicles to support its domestic civilian space industry. In addition to facilitating interaction between the Chinese government, defense sector, and research institutions, these partnerships help to facilitate overseas collaboration to promote the rapid development of targeted technological sectors. These programs put foreign companies at risk of unknowingly contributing to advancing China's strategic and military priorities.

-- China appears to have found ways around export limitations and means to protect U.S. security, such as the Wolf Amendment (Pub. L. 112-55, Sec. 539), which restricts joint space activities between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Office of Science and Technology Policy and Chinese entities. Among the ways China bypasses the law are academic and international collaboration, partnerships with companies, acquisitions of companies, and Hong Kong-domiciled companies.

-- China is on track to complete most of its space exploration goals set by the 13th Five-Year Plan, which was adopted in 2016. These lines of effort include science satellites, deep space exploration, China's first uncrewed Mars mission, Earth observation and navigation, new space vehicles, and heavy-lift rockets.

-- China's space situational awareness network is likely able to search, track, and characterize satellites in all orbits to support space and counterspace operations. Increasingly greater resolution and an ability to monitor U.S. activity in the Indo-Pacific in all weather conditions may also enhance China's ability to conduct military operations farther from shore.

-- The increase since 2015 in non-state-owned, ostensibly commercial launch vehicle and satellite companies in China's domestic market suggests that China is successfully advancing military-civil fusion efforts in the space sector. This program blurs the lines between civilian and military entities and obfuscates the ultimate end users of acquired foreign technology and know-how, presenting significant export control challenges for the United States. MCF is intended to integrate civilian and military-industrial economic resources to benefit the PLA.

-- China's Beidou global navigation satellite system is a key example of successful MCF in the space sector. The Beidou program is coordinated by a PLA contractor, but ostensibly privately owned entities also play key roles in the system's development. This coordination demonstrates the overlap between civilian and defense entities a well as Chinese universities with space science and technology programs, all of which almost certainly participate in China's MCF program, collaborate with foreign universities, organizations, and firms, including in the United States.


The report was authored by Mark Stokes, Ian Easton, Gabriel Alvarado, and Emily Weinstein.


Click here for the full report (116 PDF pages), on the USCC website.


The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) was created by Congress to report on the national security implications of the bilateral trade and economic relationship between the United States and the People's Republic of China.

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