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China and Russia: Partners in Space?

“Russian Space Officials Meet in Beijing to Discuss More Cooperation”

Curious developments. On the one hand, China wants to get aboard the ISS project (this is a howler):

As it prepares to send astronauts into space next year and launch a space lab in 2005, China is also making new overtures to join science operations on the ISS. Without China’s participation, the ISS “is not a truly international program,” CNSA administrator Luan Enjie told the Aviation Week & Space Technology last year

Reminds one of the political thought experiment currently in vogue in Europe: “How many nations have to join in before an undertaking stops being ‘unilateral’?”

But on the other hand, they take a poke at the U.S. and our inexplicable habit of complaining about, you know, those pesky ‘human rights’ thingies:

In a lengthy joint statement signed by Putin and President Jiang Zemin on 2 Dec, China and Russia stressed their commitment to a “multipolar” world code for a world less dominated by the United States. They also complained that some governments have a “policy of double standards” on human rights, rejecting “the use of human rights issues as a lever for pressure in international relations.”

(Though with Dana Rohrabacher calling them ‘Nazis in space’, one might expect the Chinese to get a bit snippy.)

The article concludes that it would be nearly impossible for the U.S., alone among the ISS partner countries in its opposition to Chinese use of the station, to prevent such use forever — at some point we’ll have to give in to the inevitable.

Personally, I hope that we don’t. And I also hope this cozy-cuddling between Russia and China and the rhetoric about a “multpolar world” is more than just words. Why? Because a worthy rival in space (on peaceful terms, mind you) is what is desperately needed to get NASA off its backside and motivated to accomplish something more spectacular and meaningful than simply getting its financial house in order. If the Russians pull back or pull out of the ISS in favor of (for example) a revived “Mir 2” project with the soon-to-be spacefaring Chinese, the public will be wanting to know how and why it happened, and what we as a country are going to do to answer it (well, for one thing, we’d have to crash-build a crew return capability).

Competition is a good thing.

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