In the wake of the announcement of the latest return to the moon proposal, space policy makers are casting about for international partners for the effort. As with the international space station, having other countries join in the lunar initiative would help to share its cost and would serve as a vehicle for diplomacy.

Naturally, china always gets mentioned when the subject of space cooperation is brought up. The PRC has a vigorous space program, having conducted a number of crewed missions to low Earth orbit and robotic probes to the moon. China is developing its own space station and, ultimately, a crewed lunar landing.

On paper, it would make a useful partner for a return to the moon.

However, according to Rep John Culberson, R-Texas was attending a space conference in Alabama when the question of China as a space partner was put to him. Culberson offered an objection based on the inconvenient fact that China is a hostile foreign power that intends to use space to enhance its military might.

Culberson noted that China is engaged in stealing intellectual property from other countries, either through cyber espionage or run-of-the-mill spying. China is playing imperial games in the South China Sea and the East China Sea much to the detriment of her neighbors. Culberson accused China of an “unfriendly Navy” in space.

He suggested that its civil space program is merely a cover for its military ambitions, to seized control of space as the physical and psychological high ground. Since most modern militaries are dependent on satellites in order to function, this drive is of some concern.

Russia too?

Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, agreed with Culberson and added Russia as another problematic foreign power.

The partnership with Russia to build and operate the International Space Station has been wildly successful. However, that partnership was forged when Russia was a much friendlier power than it is currently under Vladimir Putin.

Why does Culberson’s opinion matter?

Culberson’s opinion on space policy carries a great deal of weight because he is the chair of the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA.

He has a significant say in determining how much money the space agency shall have and what it should be spent on. If Culberson says that China shall not be a partner in the return to the moon, one can pretty much make book on the notion that it will not be in any such role anytime soon. China will have to moderate its behavior significantly if it hopes to join the rest of the world as it heads to the moon.