One of China's top space executives is scheduled to come to the US and speak next month at the National Space Symposium, the nation's premier space conference.
The speaker will be Lei Fanpei, vice president of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. He is not the first PRC space expert to appear at the symposium. In 2006, Luo Ge, then vice administrator of the China National Space Administration stirred considerable excitement among space experts when he appeared at NSS. Lei may be the highest ranking Chinese space industry representative to speak before an American audience.
Lei's appearance appears part of a trend by China to shed what had been the oppressive and often counter-productive secrecy surrounding most aspects of the Chinese space enterprise, whether civilian or military.
"It signals that while certain members of Congress want to continue to ignore China as a space player, other than providing a rationale for certain DOD programs, U.S. industry sees the Chinese aerospace industry advancing, working with other countries, and increasingly becoming part of the globalized aerospace industry. The National Space Symposium is a venue where, as an industry friend of mine put it last week, 'business deals are made.' While some politicians still see US-China relations as zero-sum, clearly the business world does not," said Joan Johnson-Freese, a senior professor at the Naval War College and one of the country's preeminent experts on China's space programs.
Dean Cheng, the Heritage Foundation's top expert on China's space efforts, said in an email that, "the Chinese definitely appear interested in greater cooperation in space w/ the US." He pointed to the fact the joint statement from the US and China during President Hu's recent visit included a commitment to space cooperation. It remains to be seen who the Chinese will send, per that statement, to reciprocate for the Bolden visit last October.
Delegations from China Great Wall Industry Corp., China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp. (CASIC) and the Chinese Society of Astronautics (CSA) are expected in Colorado Spring as well. The Great Wall Company has a long history of being closely affiliated with the Chinese military and is a major player in China's space industry.
Cheng noted that China has so far failed to move forward on a reciprocal visit of the head of the China National Space Administration. One was expected after last October's visit to China by the head of NASA, Charles Bolden.