China made a little history yesterday. It became the third country ever to land an unmanned spacecraft on the moon. Only the United States and the Soviets have done so. Accompanying the lunar module is a rover named Jade Rabbit. JR is reportedly loaded with experiments and going to probe a particular section of the moon.
State-owned propaganda aside, the Chinese could not have done it on their own. JR, for example, will be controlled via remote control courtesy of the European Space Agency (ESA). Space exploration enthusiasts, me included, welcome more nations in outer space; however, I could not help but wonder how much U.S. technology and know-how also landed on the moon yesterday?
The Chinese government has had a very robust program to steal U.S. technology for a variety of applications, including outer space programs. As Congress reported in 1999, China’s “appetite for information and technology is insatiable, and the energy devoted to the task enormous” especially for missiles and growing its outer space forces. The Select Report report (Cox Report) was one of the most politically damning documents ever published on this matter. But China did not stop. Quite the opposite.
For example, in 2008 the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia announced the arrest of a Newport News physicist for illegally exporting space launch technical data and services as well as bribing Chinese government officials. According to the complaint, Shu Quan-Sheng (“Shu”), a native of China, a naturalized citizen and PhD holder, was involved in China’s ongoing and systematic effort to upgrade space exploration and satellite technology capabilities. Shu was later sentenced to 51 months in federal prison.
In March 2013, Sixing Liu (Liu) was sentenced to five years in federal prison for export to China without a license technology for rocket launchers and missiles. Liu was employed by the L3 Communications Space & Navigation and had lived in the U.S. as a legal permanent resident for 19 years. His defense? Liu claimed he mistakenly took the technology to Shaghai in his laptop for a conference. The U.S. Attorney, correctly, labeled Liu “serial thief” who was knowingly exporting defense articles without State Department authorization.
There were many other notable cases. In fact, according to the Justice Department, from 2006-2010 there were “dozens of China- related prosecutions on espionage, economic espionage, and export control violation charges. China has aggressively targeted and acquired classified, sensitive, and proprietary US information and technology.” And, China will most assuredly continue to do so. Chinese officials even have the temerity to publicly state that U.S. export control laws be weakened. Diplomats in Washington, with the help of registered lobbyists, badger U.S. officials and Congress to do so.
China may have accomplished a significant technological feat yesterday, but it did so by using unlawfully acquired U.S. technology and know how. It is a good example of why U.S. export control laws matter and why folks in Congress are taking a much closer look these days to the Obama Administration’s efforts to reform the nation’s chief legal and regulatory regime in this field.
Despite that NASA relies on the Russians for taxi service to the space station (not NASA’s finest moment), the U.S. remains the undisputed global leader in outer space exploration and related R&D. It should stay that way. As for the Chinese, as well as the Iranian monkey, welcome to space. The U.S. has already been reached and been working a few light years over on Mars. Good luck.