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China 'Shocked' at US Cold Shoulder in Space

The Chinese, who launched their first astronaut into space last year, are "shocked" the United States has not welcomed them into the tight-knit community of space-faring nations, a leading U.S. expert said on Tuesday, urging the U.S to cooperate with China.

Joan Johnson-Freese, who chairs the National Security Decision Making Department at the U.S. Naval War College, said one space official she met on a recent trip to China was very emotional as he asked for U.S. recognition and cooperation.

"They are shocked that the U.S. is not reaching out to them. They want very much to work with the United States," she said.

The Chinese went so far as to build a docking ring onto their Shenzhou spacecraft that would allow it to park at the $95 billion International Space Station, said Johnson-Freese.

Their launch complex in Inner Mongolia is on the same parallel as NASA's Kennedy Space Center, which would allow them to share an orbit with the ISS.

Johnson-Freese was a featured speaker at the 41st Space Congress in Cape Canaveral.

After the Chinese became the third nation after the former Soviet Union and the United States to launch a human into space last October, they expected Washington to become more open.

That expectation ran into a wall of U.S. suspicion that the Chinese program, which is under military control, could someday pose a threat to the U.S. domination in satellites used for military communications, reconnaissance and tracking.

But where the United States is reluctant, others will not be, Johnson-Freeze said.

"The Europeans are eager to work with them," she said. China is already participating in the European Union's Galileo constellation, a rival to the U.S. Global Positioning System.

"The rest of the world clearly sees the U.S. as space dominant. This scares a lot of other countries. They see us as having the sword and the shield," said Johnson-Freese.

Many experts in Europe and the United States doubt the Chinese are capable in the short term of competing with the United States in space, although both nations have stated goals of building moon bases and continuing on to Mars.

But Johnson-Freese warned that if the U.S. falters, the nation could undergo something similar to the "Sputnik shock" experienced after the Soviets became the first to launch a satellite into Earth orbit.

"What if, in 10 years, the Chinese are on their way to the moon and the U.S. effort is diminishing. Would that be acceptable to the U.S. public? I don't think so," she said.

(Reuters/chinadaily.com.cn May 2, 2004)

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