China urges “peaceful” space cooperation as U.S. grapples with UFO debate

As U.S. lawmakers called on the government to release more information in line with the Pentagon’s efforts to track unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs), a Chinese official told Newsweek that Beijing sought greater cooperation on matters related to outer space.

The congressional calls came in the wake of a series of hearings held last week by the House Oversight Committee, where witnesses claimed the U.S. Intelligence Community had access to more evidence of UAPs than has been released as part of the Pentagon’s push to bring the issue out in the open. One former Air Force officer claimed that U.S. officials had access to “non-human” craft, something that the Pentagon has denied.

And while Chinese Embassy to the United States spokesperson Liu Pengyu said he had no “specific” response to the U.S. debate over UAPs, commonly referred to as “unidentified flying objects” (UFOs), he stated “as principle” that “outer space is an important field for win-win cooperation.”

“The exploration and peaceful uses of outer space is humanity’s common endeavor and should benefit all,” Liu told Newsweek. “China is committed to the peaceful uses of outer space, security of outer space and extensive cooperation with all countries. China also welcomes progress by more countries in this area.”

“We are ready to continue to work with other countries, advance the peaceful uses of outer space, better promote economic development and social progress of all countries, and make a greater contribution to building a community with a shared future for mankind,” he added.

China, Shenzhou-16, space, launch, in, May, 2023
A soldier stands guard in front of the launch site of the Shenzhou-16 spacecraft onboard the Long March-2F rocket of the China Manned Space Agency before taking off at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on May 30 in Jiuquan, China. The three-astronaut crew of the Shenzhou-16 spacecraft was carried to China’s new Tiangong Space Station and replaced a similar crew that had been at the station for the last six months.
Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

While the U.S. military has rejected much of the testimony offered in Congress last week, the government has sought to make at least part of the conversation regarding UAPs public, with the Pentagon announcing the establishment of the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force in August 2020, the Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group in November 2021 and the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO) in July 2022.

In January of this year, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence also published a long-anticipated report regarding UAPs, some of which have been observed in the Asia-Pacific region, a central focus of U.S.-China tensions.

Among the duties of the AARO is “evaluating links between unidentified aerial phenomena and adversarial foreign governments, other foreign governments, or nonstate actors.” In an April testimony before Congress, AARO Director Sean Kirkpatrick highlighted the potential connection between some UAP sightings and the possible capability of foreign governments, such as China, to wield assets unknown to the U.S.

Days before the hearing, U.S. intelligence leaked to Discord revealed an assessment that China was preparing to deploy a high-altitude supersonic spy drone known as the WZ-8 capable of traveling three times the speed of sound. Chinese researchers had previously attested to an even more ambitious hypersonic drone program in the works.

Newsweek has reached out to the Pentagon and U.S.-Indo Pacific Command for comment.

UAP-related issues have already served to drive tensions between Beijing and Washington. In a widely viewed slow-motion episode, the U.S. military tracked and shot down a Chinese high-altitude balloon that had flown over U.S. airspace and was suspected of having surveillance capabilities. The Pentagon later said the balloon did not collect information while transiting over the U.S. and China repeatedly alleged it was an unmanned civilian airship tasked with weather research that had gone astray.

During this same timeframe, another Chinese balloon was observed over Latin America, and the U.S. shot down three more unidentified objects over U.S. and Canadian airspace that were not tied directly to the Chinese balloon incursions. Amid these events, Chinese state media reported that Chinese authorities were preparing to shoot down an unknown object flying over the Shandong province, near the Yellow Sea, though no further details were released.

The Chinese balloon incident prompted U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel a planned trip to Beijing, worsening U.S.-China tensions at a time when communications between the U.S. Armed Forces and the People’s Liberation Army were already frozen as a result of then-House Speak Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the disputed island of Taiwan last August. The dialogue remained stalled even after Blinken ultimately traveled to China in June, with Chinese officials calling on the U.S. to do more to respect China’s claimed sovereignty over Taiwan and the South China Sea.

Cooperation between Beijing and Washington in outer space is even more tenuous. The 2011 Wolf Amendment passed by Congress bans NASA from using government funds to engage in bilateral cooperation with China without explicit permission from the FBI.

Calls for fostering cooperation between the two powers in this field have so far proven fruitless as tensions between them increased over the past decade, even as China’s own space program made new strides.

President Joe Biden’s administration has sought to discuss arms control in outer space with Beijing as efforts to establish non-proliferation dialogue elsewhere have failed, with China arguing that both the U.S. and Russia alone bore a special responsibility to limit their far larger nuclear arsenals. But the U.S. has also opposed a longstanding proposal by both China and Russia to ban weapons in outer space, contending that their suggested treaty did not go far enough to address outstanding issues that include verification; the development, possession and testing of such platforms; and the use of terrestrial anti-satellite missiles.

The U.S. State Department has also taken issue with the phrase “a common shared future for humankind,” considered to be linked to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Communist Party ideology that is unsuited for arms control measures. Chinese officials have defended the language, saying it has “won wide support of the U.N. member states and is consistent with the aspirations of the international community to defend common security in outer space.”

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