International Order & Conflict

Will U.S.-China Relations in Space be Cooperative or Competitive?

Featured Speaker:

Michael Nacht, Thomas and Alison Schneider Professor of Public Policy, Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley


Michael Krepon, Stimson Co-founder/Senior Associate and Director of the Space Security Program

Stimson hosted UC
Berkeley professor Michael Nacht for a discussion on the mix of cooperation and
competition in U.S.-China space relations. Nacht offered a brief assessment of
the substance of the U.S.-China relationship, which he noted differed greatly
from U.S.-Soviet relations, in part due to the depth of economic interconnectedness,
and expected that bilateral relations would see simultaneous cooperation and
competition, with opportunities for both states.

Here’s a clip from the event:

To watch the full event, click here.

Nacht spoke of the
complex and largely classified nature of the space domain, which he
as congested and likely to become even more crowded, increasingly
competitive in
part due to private sector involvement, and contested as more countries
seek to
have a real role in space. With over 21,000 man-made objects in earth’s
space today is much more complex than it was during the Cold War. While
he did not foresee direct military confrontation in space in
the near future, he emphasized that the role of the U.S. military is to
for any and all contingencies, even those that might seem presently
The United States depends on space and cyber assets for military
intelligence, war-fighting capabilities, and myriad other services vital
national defense. The ability to be able to deny U.S. space capabilities
essential for China’s strategy in the event of conflict in East Asia.

argued that a pattern developing in U.S.-China strategic relations is the
Chinese perception of the United States as a potentially interventionist power
in the region, a posture China does not wish to encourage. Conversely, in the
view of the United States, China has adopted a program of anti-access, area
denial that could infringe upon U.S.
interests in space.

in space could help avert major confrontation, but transparency is limited.
Both China and the United States have limited incentives to share additional
information about their space programs with each other. Importantly, the potential
for cross-domain deterrence – a response to an attack in one domain, like
cyber, in another, like space or nuclear – could usher bilateral relations into
uncharted and possibly dangerous territory.

concluded that the space domain will be an important factor in shaping U.S.-China
relations in the future, and advised that the U.S.-China space relationship be
handled maturely and with appreciation for the high stakes involved. He stated
that while the U.S.-China space relationship would not be simple and probably
would not succeed totally, limitations on transparency do not need to limit the
ability to talk to the Chinese and pursue some efforts that might keep the
relationship on track.

This discussion on U.S.-China space relations is presented by Stimson’s Space
Security program, and is supported by DTRA and the New-Land Foundation.


For more information, contact Julia Thompson at [email protected] or 202-478-3432

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