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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.