The following article by Matthew Robertson appeared in The Epoch Times online here.
WASHINGTON—Two Chinese journalists were supposed to watch the U.S. space shuttle Endeavour take off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in mid-May. The shuttle was using the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2 particle detector, a component developed by Chinese scientist Samuel Ting, and their story would have made useful provender for China’s state media apparatus.
But they were turned away at the gates.
Their employer, Xinhua, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), went into high dudgeon. A scornful editorial made no bones about the man and the law responsible: “‘Wolf Clause’ betrays China-U.S. cooperation,” the headline read.
It was the doing of Rep. Frank Wolf, a long-term critic of the CCP, after he became chairman of the House Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee in January.
The language he inserted into the spending bill for those agencies in April prevents NASA and the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) from using federal funds.
The agencies are not allowed to “develop, design, plan, promulgate, implement, or execute a bilateral policy, program, order, or contract of any kind to participate, collaborate, or coordinate bilaterally in any way with China or any Chinese-owned company.”
Additionally, it prevents NASA from hosting “official Chinese visitors.”
“I think the Chinese are shocked,” said one of Wolf’s staffer’s in a telephone interview, responding to the Xinhua counterattack. “They’re so used to the administration caving to them and bending over backward. I think they’re truly taken aback that this policy was put in place.”
The clause is part of a larger debate about how the United States should deal with a Chinese communist regime that, while gathering ever more global clout, engages in state-sanctioned human rights abuses, technology theft, and persistent cyberwarfare against the U.S. government and American companies.
While none of that is new to Rep. Frank Wolf, the straw that broke the camel’s back was the suggestion by the Obama administration—first made when the president went to Beijing in November 2009, and reiterated when Chairman of the Communist Party Hu Jintao visited Washington in January—that the United States cooperate with China in human space flight.
The scope of the cooperation would have extended to “hands-on, bilateral, human space flight technology sharing, training sharing, and critical national secrets or expertise, giving that to the Chinese,” according to Wolf’s staff member, who was not authorized to speak publicly. “We look at this and say: ‘How does that administration not get this?’”
Wolf made his position clear in his testimony to the U.S.-China Commission in May: “The U.S. has no business cooperating with the PLA to help develop its space program.”
Cooperation with China on human space flight, would, according to Richard Fisher, an analyst and author on the Chinese military, “In essence … constitute a free transfer of technology.”
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) leads China’s space efforts, and there is no real difference between China’s military and civil space programs, experts say. Wolf thus asserts, “There is no reason to believe that the PLA’s space program will be any more benign than the PLA’s recent military posture.”
His clause to combat this cooperative venture and others like it was passed as part of the budget negotiations, and is valid until Sept. 30. The item will have to stand on its own merits in new legislation to be introduced into the House.
Though the area of acute concern was human space flight cooperation, Wolf made the language cover OSTP as well “to send a signal to the White House and NASA” that “this is unacceptable,” according to Wolf’s staffer. “To engage China increasingly in bilateral areas is not appropriate until we see some changes in China,” the staffer added.
The administration and Congress have locked horns on the issue already, and they may do so again.
Chief of the OSTP, John Holdren, told Wolf’s subcommittee in early May that “the prohibition should not be read as prohibiting interactions that are part of the president’s constitutional authority to conduct negotiations,” effectively saying that the provision would not block cooperation.
Rep. John Culberson, who sits on the committee, consulted with Wolf about that. Then he fired back: “You need to remember that Congress enacts these laws and it’s the chief executive’s job to enforce them. … Now if anyone in your office, or at NASA, participates or collaborates or coordinates in any way with China, you’re in violation of the statute. And frankly, you’re endangering your funding and NASA’s funding.”
Holdren was unperturbed by the threats. The day after the hearing he participated in a major bilateral summit with senior Chinese officials over U.S.-China collaboration on science. “I take this blatant disregard for the law very seriously and the committee is currently reviewing its options,” Wolf told the U.S.-China Commission.
NASA declined an invitation to give testimony before the commission; Wolf expressed his “sincere disappointment” over that in his remarks.
Nevertheless, the space agency has taken a different tack to the ban than OSTP. They’re not fighting the provision, according to NASA spokesman Michael Braukus.
“It’s the law. We have to follow through with it,” he said in a telephone interview. He did not say what the feelings were within the organization about the cancellation and suspension of cooperation programs with China.
To stay as law into 2012, the clause will have to pass the Senate and White House. Both passed it as part of the budget negotiations in April, but it is not clear what they will do this time. The press office of the chairwoman of the Senate subcommittee did not return calls, and nor did the OSTP.
But if it passes the Senate, a White House veto of the bill would be risky. “It would certainly endanger funding for the administration. I think they would think very carefully before using a veto,” the Wolf staffer said.
They may instead continue to come up with creative, and possibly illegal, ways to skirt around it.
After Holdren’s performance in front of Wolf’s subcommittee, the latter asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to open an investigation into how the White House has allegedly been violating the law.
“Clearly they’ve shown a willingness to brazenly break the law this year,” the Wolf staffer said. “It’s pretty much an ironclad provision. It’s very clear to us, and GAO is interested in whether they’ve taken a far too broad interpretation.”
Such tug-of-wars have always taken place between the executive and Congress. “This is standard constitutional law competition,” says Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center. “Who will bluff whom into what?”
But as news continues to splash across newspapers detailing ever more brazen cyber-attacks orchestrated by China, Wolf’s concerns start to look weightier.
“The brief against China misusing U.S. technology is not a null set: You give them a computer it turns into something they put in their weapons program,” Sokolski said. “Congress exercising its power of the purse over technology transfers to countries they see as despicable is legitimate. We used to have such a policy to Soviet Union; I don’t think it’s unprecedented.”
Cooperation with China’s space program is particularly risky, according to experts. “There is no ‘civilian’ Chinese space program—every facet is controlled by the PLA,” Richard Fisher, the Chinese military expert, wrote in an e-mail. “They are developing multiple space weapons … as such, any and all interactions between Chinese space people and those of any other country ultimately will redound to the benefit of the PLA.”
“We have a civil [space] program separate from our military program,” Wolf’s staffer said. “This administration has a hard time understanding that they’re not dealing with a Chinese civil program.”