- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 29, 2021

China is accusing the U.S. of violating its obligation under a 1967 treaty on the peaceful use of space after two “close encounters” between SpaceX satellites and a Chinese Space Station.

Chinese space officials filed a complaint with the U.N. earlier this month saying astronauts aboard the space station were forced to take measures to avoid collisions with SpaceX’s Starlink Internet satellite on two separate occasions this year.

SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The complaint spurred Chinese social media outrage against SpaceX founder Elon Musk including calls to boycott his electric car company, Tesla, which has invested heavily in expanding its manufacturing capacity in China.

On Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijan blasted the U.S. for the close calls in space.

“The US claims to be a strong advocate of the concept of ‘responsible behavior in outer space,’ but it disregarded its Treaty obligations and posed a grave threat to the safety of astronauts,” Mr. Zhao said. “This is typical double standard.”

State Department spokesman Ned Price said at a briefing Tuesday that the U.S. “encouraged all countries with space programs to be responsible actors, to avoid acts that may put in danger astronauts, cosmonauts, others who are orbiting the Earth or who have the potential to.”

He declined to comment directly on Mr. Zhao’s remarks. 

Mr. Zhao also accused the U.S. of violating the treaty that he said is “widely recognized as the cornerstone of international space law.”

He said, per the treaty, the U.S. bears responsibility for space activities “conducted by their private companies,” and is obliged to protect the safety of astronauts operating in space.

“Exploration and peaceful uses of outer space is a common cause of all humanity,” Mr. Zhao said. “Guided by the vision of advancing the welfare of all, China is committed to peaceful uses of space.”

“The US should respect international order in space based on international law, take prompt measures to prevent such incidents from recurring, and act responsibly to safeguard the safety of in-orbit astronauts and the safe and steady operation of space facilities,” he said.

Earlier this year, U.S. officials accused China of similar violations after the International Space Station nearly collided with space debris left from a Chinese anti-satellite missile test.

Mr. Zhao said that “the so-called China space debris threat,” has been hyped up by international onlookers and misrepresents “China’s normal space activities in an attempt to deflect international attention.”

“This is shifting the blame on the innocent by distorting concepts,” he said.

• Joseph Clark can be reached at jclark@washingtontimes.com.

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