Will Team Biden cede preeminence in space to the Chinese?

Will Team Biden cede preeminence in space to the Chinese?

This past week, Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceDemocrats don't trust GOP on 1/6 commission: 'These people are dangerous' The Memo: CPAC fires starting gun on 2024 Merrick Garland is right to prioritize domestic terrorism, but he'll need a bigger boat MORE, in his capacity as chair of the National Space Council, addressed a meeting of that group at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Although his speech was rather generic and filled with too much partisan praise of President TrumpDonald TrumpNoem touts South Dakota coronavirus response, knocks lockdowns in CPAC speech On The Trail: Cuomo and Newsom — a story of two embattled governors McCarthy: 'I would bet my house' GOP takes back lower chamber in 2022 MORE, he did manage to briefly address a critically important topic: the growing threat posed to the United States by China’s militarized space program.     

But, as they say in the news business, even with that warning, Pence still managed to “bury the lead.” In remarks that stretched almost two hours, he spoke about the threat from China for only one brief paragraph.    

Said Pence: “China is increasingly emerging as a serious competitor in space, just as they are in other areas of the global economy and to the strategic interest of the United States. As the world witnessed, China recently landed an unmanned craft on the moon and, for the first time, robotically raised the red flag of Communist China on that magnificent desolation.”


The political and military leadership directing China’s space program must have burst out laughing when they heard or read Pence’s assessment that “China is increasingly emerging as a serious competitor in space,” or when, later in the speech, he declared: “In four short years, America is leading in space once again — it’s true.”     

In fact, China “emerged” as a “serious competitor” well over a decade ago.   

China knows it is the preeminent space-faring nation on Earth, and that the United States may be about to slip much further behind them with the coming change in presidential administrations.    

For all those in the United States who understand the critical need for the United States to have robust civilian and military space programs, almost every presidential election becomes a recurring nightmare realized.

The main reason is that virtually every incoming president tends to scale back or dismantle the space policies enacted by his predecessor. The fact that the “predecessor” in this case will be Donald Trump, who is despised by much of the incoming Biden administration, puts Trump’s space policies and programs squarely in the “cancel it” crosshairs of Team Biden — policies such as the Space Force, a return of American astronauts to the moon, and the very existence of the National Space Council itself.  


To make the political and military leadership of China even happier, they know that incoming Democratic administrations tend to be against the “militarization” of space; against “wasteful” human exploration of space; to favor redirecting NASA and space dollars to domestic programs; and to favor dedicating space budgets o fighting climate change.   

When Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaArtist behind golden Trump statue at CPAC says he made it in Mexico Obama opens up about singing 'Amazing Grace' after Charleston shooting: 'I've used up all my words' Exclusive: How Obama went to bat for Warren MORE replaced George W. Bush, his administration oversaw the shutdown of America’s ability to send astronauts into space on U.S. spacecraft. Because American preeminence in space was not a priority to Obama, for most of his administration, and now most of the Trump administration, we relied on the Russians — at approximately $90 million per astronaut — to get Americans to the mostly U.S.-built International Space Station.

Right now, much of President-elect BidenJoe BidenNoem touts South Dakota coronavirus response, knocks lockdowns in CPAC speech On The Trail: Cuomo and Newsom — a story of two embattled governors Biden celebrates vaccine approval but warns 'current improvement could reverse' MORE’s NASA transition team is led and staffed by Obama-era retreads, officials who have made it abundantly clear in the past that the study of climate change is one of their top space priorities.      

No matter if one agrees or disagrees with such a policy, such stated goals are music to the ears of those running the space program for the People’s Republic of China. That’s because they do understand that every U.S. tax dollar directed away from a vibrant American human spaceflight program and space defense program is a victory for China and their ultimate endgame.

Some in Congress and the media may want to mask it or even deny it, but as the recent news of the Chinese government seeking to compromise certain U.S. politicians shows, China understands its greatest competition — and in some ways, its greatest threat — is the United States. For that reason and a host of others, they look at any opportunity to create an advantage over the United States. A strategic part of that goal is to dominate all, from Earth orbit to the surface of the moon.

Years ago, while working on a book, I had the honor to speak with all 12 men who have walked on the moon. To a person, they felt that unless the United States had a president who honestly believed the country must be the preeminent spacefaring nation, we would continue to be vulnerable in that important arena.

A new U.S. president soon will be sworn in. You can be sure the Chinese leadership is hopeful that Biden will not only dismantle all that Trump has done regarding space, but also will relegate the U.S. space program to one of the back burners of his policy initiatives. History, in this case, is on the side of the Chinese. 

Douglas MacKinnon, a political and communications consultant, was a writer in the White House for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and former special assistant for policy and communications at the Pentagon during the last three years of the Bush administration. He is the author of several books, including “Footprints: The 12 Men Who Walked on the Moon Reflect on their Flights, their Lives, and the Future” and most recently “The Dawn of a Nazi Moon.”