WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. and Chinese officials will meet in the United States this fall for bilateral talks about civil space, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday, amid growing concerns about China’s behavior in the rapidly expanding commercial space market.
The meeting, which will likely happen in Washington, is not pegged to progress in this week’s meeting of U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of a G20 meeting in Osaka, Japan, the official said.
“It’s completely separate. We have reason to talk to China about being a responsible actor in outer space, regardless almost of anything that happens,” David Turner, deputy director of the State Department Office of Space and Advanced Technology, told Reuters.
Relations between Washington and Beijing have worsened since talks collapsed in May, when the United States accused China of reneging on pledges to reform its economy.
That conflict could eventually spill over to the commercial space economy, but for now, Washington was keen to remain engaged on space matters with China, officials said.
Beijing shocked the world in 2007 with an unexpected anti-satellite test that created massive amounts of debris in space and posed risks to the International Space Station.
The last U.S.-Chinese talks on civil space took place in Beijing in November 2017 before the start of the escalating trade war between the world’s two largest economies.
Kevin O’Connell, director of the Office of Space Commerce at the U.S. Commerce Department, said U.S. companies were voicing growing concern about artificial pricing offered by Chinese competitors and the forced transfer of intellectual property.
He said the U.S. government was “greatly worried” about such reports, and what appeared to be Beijing’s different understanding of what constituted a “commercial” market.
“It’s a conversation that this government wants to have in a civil space dialogue,” O’Connell said. “What do they mean by commercial, what kinds of behaviors would we consider to be off limits in a commercial context, etc.”
O’Connell said U.S. companies were seeing China piling into the lucrative and growing commercial space market in both the technical and services sectors. There had also been several attempts by Chinese firms to purchase U.S. companies active in the market, although those bids had been rejected, he said.
Asked if the Trump administration could consider imposing sanctions against China over the issue, O’Connell said it was too early to discuss such measures.
“I don’t think we’re there in any way, shape or form because the United States is still very much in the lead in all of these (space-related) areas. And we’re doing everything that we can in the administration to fuel that advance,” he said.
Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Cynthia Osterman