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China's Person of the Year By: William R. Hawkins
The Washington Times | Monday, January 21, 2008


Time Magazine drew considerable attention when it named Russian President Vladimir Putin its 2007 "Person of the Year." Time reports Mr. Putin "is passionate in his belief that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was a tragedy." His confrontational policies in Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia have raised fears of a renewed Cold War.

Not given as much attention was the naming of Qian Xuesen as Person of the Year by Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine. Mr. Qian is considered the father of China's aerospace industry. As AW&ST stated, "Nothing in aviation or space in 2007 represented a greater change in the status quo than China's ascendancy to the first rank of space powers."

In 2003, China became only the third nation to launch a man into space. Beijing opened 2007 with an anti-satellite (ASAT) missile test that AW&ST says, "demonstrated an ability — based on advanced sensors, tracking and precise trajectory control technologies — which had previously belonged only to the U.S. and Russia." Then in October, it sent a scientific probe to the moon.

I was at the Zhuhai international air show in 2004 where China was hailing its first astronaut and proclaiming its future ambitions. There were large displays devoted to building bases on the moon and flying missions deeper into the solar system. They looked like the futuristic documentaries popular in the United States in the 1960s, to which we have not devoted the effort to make reality.

It would be nice to think pursuit of scientific advancement would be enough to motivate such efforts, but what gave the old Space Race its stimulus was the Cold War. Accomplishments in space were a marker in the competition between systems, and at a more practical level, a source of military technology if the international rivalry turned hot.

If Mr. Putin's policies remind us of the past, Mr. Qian's accomplishments should warn us of new dangers. The Jan. 14 issue of Defense News reported on a Chinese program to attack and sink American aircraft carriers. The article quotes Mark Stokes, a former adviser to the defense secretary and onetime military attache in Beijing: "Based on Chinese doctrinal and technical publications, among the more interesting programs has been research and development on advanced conventional ballistic missiles with maneuvering re-entry vehicles and terminal guidance."

The U.S. deployed two carrier groups to Taiwan in 1996 to deter an escalation of Chinese missile "tests" near the de facto independent island democracy. Ever since, Beijing has plotted ways to destroy any U.S. or allied warships that ventured into the area.

Such a capability could also be used in other trouble spots, from Korea to the Malacca Straits to the Persian Gulf, where the United States and China are on opposite sides of local conflicts.

Mr. Qian learned aerospace engineering in America during World War II when Nationalist China was an ally. He helped found the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. When the Communists took over China, Mr. Qian became a security risk because his first loyalty was to his homeland regardless of its regime. Though his deportation was controversial, he clearly took significant information with him. However, it is the transfer of technology to China in more recent years that is more directly tied to Beijing's current strategic advances.

Cooperation with Russia, particularly continued Soviet efforts to defeat U.S. naval and air forces, has been important, but so has been the commercial transfer of technology from American firms anxious to make a profit by helping China's rise. Reports by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, the Defense Department and the Rand Corp. have shown that the transfer of U.S. technology to Chinese firms (most of them state-owned) has increased Beijing's military power. Electronics, computers, engineering and advanced manufacturing have all benefited.

Richard Fisher, a leading expert on the Chinese military at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, has written: "It is also possible to conclude that China's first direct ascent ASAT benefits directly from U.S. and British space technology. According to a Chinese engineer who worked with Fourth Academy of the China Aerospace Corp. ... China was only able to make the rocket motor for the DF-21 work reliably after receiving solid fuel rocket motor insulation technology from the former U.S. Martin Marietta Corp."

The DF-21 is also the basis for the anti-ship ballistic missile program.

House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee Chairman Sander Levin wants to move legislation in early 2008 to address Beijing's intellectual property violations and currency manipulation, and to improve China-specific safeguard provisions of U.S. law. These are needed measures to address the massive trade imbalance that has strengthened Beijing's industrial and financial base.

The scope of congressional efforts should, however, be expanded to directly limit technology transfers that Beijing can use to menace U.S. security.


William Hawkins is a consultant on international economics and national security issues.


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