A senior Pentagon official told Congress last week that the U.S. government is concerned about the leakage of embargoed U.S. space technology to China.
Gregory L. Schulte, deputy assistant defense secretary for space policy, was asked during a House Armed Services subcommittee hearing whether illicit exports of U.S. satellite technology by the French company Thales would boost China’s ambitious space weapons program.
Mr. Schulte was questioned by Rep. Michael R. Turner, Ohio Republican and chairman of the strategic forces subcommittee, about a recent letter he and two other lawmakers had written to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thales‘ sale of satellites to China that contained restricted U.S. space technology. The letter raised concerns about whether such tech transfers would boost the “increasingly aggressive activity in space [by] the People's Republic of China.”
“The leakage of sensitive technology to countries like China has, of course, been foremost in our mind as we’ve thought about export control reform,” he said.
China’s long-range missiles were improved during the 1990s after two U.S. companies illicitly shared U.S. space technology with Beijing.
Mr. Schulte said the Obama administration is planning to loosen technology export controls by moving some items on the U.S. Munitions List to the more-easily licensed Commerce Control List, but “only space items that are already widely available.”
“And we are not proposing removing the Tiananmen Square sanctions that would remain in place even with export-control reform, meaning that items still on the Munitions List could not be exported to China,” Mr. Schulte said.
“And, also meaning, that we would not allow the launch of satellites from Chinese launch vehicles.”
The administration is also proposing that, for China, all items moved off the Munitions List would still be subject to restrictive licensing and controls.
“In fact, we believe that, to the extent that we focus on those technologies that are most sensitive, we can increase the focus of our export-control and enforcement efforts to avoid situations like this in the future.”
Asked why no sanctions have been imposed on Thales for the illicit U.S. satellite technology export to China, Mr. Schulte said, “We are clearly concerned at any leakage of sensitive technology to China and support all enforcement efforts there.”
Thales came under investigation by the State Department several years ago for offering what it advertised as an “ITAR-free” satellite for sale, meaning it did not require U.S. licensing.