China has participated in spaceflight for a rather short time. While the first satellite was launched in 1970, the beginnings were rather slow. Decades later China’s space program doesn’t need to hide itself. China has achieved what few other nations have: Sending a man into orbit around earth. At this moment China is the 3rd largest player in spaceflight.
That being said, the Western world should ask itself if a cooperation with China is desired.
Russia (and its predecessor the Soviet Union) has traditionally good ties with China and a lot of technology transfer happened already. Russian space leaders often meet with their Chinese counterparts and it is definitely clear that these two nations already cooperate.
On the other side of the ocean are the United States of America, which does not want to cooperate with China at all. Hardliners currently have the upper hand in this question and technology exchange, joint programs and other forms of cooperation are forbidden. This stance is rather one-sided. While the USA prohibit cooperation, China is willing to cooperate.
In Europe ties with China are slowly developing. On several occasions Europe’s space agency ESA worked together with China’s national space agency CNSA. Scientists from both sides occasionally work on projects from the partner and talks continue if a future Chinese space station can be built with support from Europe.
One of the outstanding projects of cooperation in recent times was the Mars-500 project. A flight to Mars was simulated in a laboratory on earth. Six participants from CNSA, ESA and the Russian Federal Space Agency flew to Mars. A space habitat was built and the crew had to live these 500 days in cramped conditions. While this was only simulated on ground, many new insights were found and furthermore, the three partners showed that they can cooperate very well.
The head of the European Human Space Flight and Operations Directorate, and former German ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter, said in an interview that some current ESA astronaut trainees are also learning Chinese.
I think, if the West cooperates with China in space, there initially will be some technology transfer towards China. But it may turn out as a good investment. China is growing continuously and even without any technology transfers there is little to stop them from being the leading space power in 20 to 30 years. At that moment a technology transfer in the reverse direction could take place. So why not just start to cooperate now? And learners of Chinese can profit as new job opportunities in space engineering open up.
Crew of the Mars 500 project onboard their space ship. Image: ESA