For some time now the officials of the United States military have been aware of the rapid advancements being made by China in the realm of outer space military capabilities. According to Lt. General Nina Armagno, the director of staff of the United States Space Force, China has made significant progress in a number of areas, such as satellite communications and re-usable spacecraft which are important for the scaling up of a space program. Even more concerning is how Ye Peijian, the head of China’s Lunar Exploration Program, has compared Earth’s moon and Mars to contested islands in the South China Sea. Islands which China has exerted significant efforts to claim for itself.
Given that space is increasingly considered a warfighting domain by countries around the world, the United States and Japan have taken steps to bolster their alliance in the face of these new potential threats. Further, representatives of each state have signaled that they will be building upon previous decades of cooperation in the exploration of outerspace for peaceful purposes.
A major component of this cooperation will be between NASA and the Government of Japan on Gateway, an important part of NASA’s Artemis program that focuses on long-term exploration of the Moon. In exchange for this cooperation, the Japanese counterpart to NASA (the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency or JAXA) will have the opportunity of including one of their astronauts on a future Artemis mission. In addition, Japan has confirmed that it will continue participating alongside the United States in the International Space Station through 2030.
Given the extent of this continuing cooperation, as well as signals that the United States and Japan will be extending security concerns to space, such as for satellites, it goes to show both allied states are well aware that cooperation for both peaceful and military purposes in this arena will be important going forward in the face of recent actions and activities of China. We can hope that being forthright on the expectations about the line for peaceful interactions in space will help prevent conflict from breaking out in the latest arena of contention between the United States and its allies with China.
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