The space technology transfer to China

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I have noted on a number of conservative blogs various laments regarding the transfer of space technology to the Chinese that occurred during the 90's under the Clinton administration. The theme generally runs along these lines "Clinton enabled the Chinese to purchase the technology from US companies that will allow their nuclear weapons to rain death on American citizens".  

This sounds really bad, until you realize that the Chinese could have gotten the exact same technology from the Russians, French, Germans and/or the Israelis (at a lower price too).  Or, the Chinese might have just decided to try figuring it on their own. After all, the physics involved where pretty basic.  According to an article I read in Aviation Week, what our companies really gave the Chinese wasn't technology, it was a lesson on the discipline needed to managed a space program.   See the Chinese real problem wasn't technology, it was quality control.  Maybe it was stupid for a Western company to give a competitor an edge like that, but quality control is hardly a national secret.

Then there was the fallout from this controversy.  As a result of all the hoopla over this issue, responsibility for tech transfer issues was moved from the Commerce Dept to the State Dept, whose bureaucrats where extremely conservative in making decisions.  The net result of that was to drive up the costs of high tech US products, giving our foreign competitors a real edge. In the years after this scandal, US satellite manufacturers lost billions of dollars of business just because it was easier and cheaper to deal with a European government than the US.

While I respect the need to protect some technology (like nuclear weapons design) it's important to realize that one of our competitive advantages is the free flow on information in our society. Yes, that makes it easier for our enemies to steal our technology.  But, if we allow our economy to keep growing strongly, we'll always be one step ahead.  On the other hand, if we place major restrictions on technology transfers, we risk stifling our economic growth, while only delaying our enemies' ability to get that technology.

I heard someone quote Lenin as saying "Those capitalists are so stupid,  that they will sell us the rope we need to hang them."  Being a communist, he was too ignorant to realize that we would use our profits from rope selling to buy the nails needed for the Soviet Union's coffin.

Steven W Dugger  10 21 05

I have noted on a number of conservative blogs various laments regarding the transfer of space technology to the Chinese that occurred during the 90's under the Clinton administration. The theme generally runs along these lines "Clinton enabled the Chinese to purchase the technology from US companies that will allow their nuclear weapons to rain death on American citizens".  

This sounds really bad, until you realize that the Chinese could have gotten the exact same technology from the Russians, French, Germans and/or the Israelis (at a lower price too).  Or, the Chinese might have just decided to try figuring it on their own. After all, the physics involved where pretty basic.  According to an article I read in Aviation Week, what our companies really gave the Chinese wasn't technology, it was a lesson on the discipline needed to managed a space program.   See the Chinese real problem wasn't technology, it was quality control.  Maybe it was stupid for a Western company to give a competitor an edge like that, but quality control is hardly a national secret.

Then there was the fallout from this controversy.  As a result of all the hoopla over this issue, responsibility for tech transfer issues was moved from the Commerce Dept to the State Dept, whose bureaucrats where extremely conservative in making decisions.  The net result of that was to drive up the costs of high tech US products, giving our foreign competitors a real edge. In the years after this scandal, US satellite manufacturers lost billions of dollars of business just because it was easier and cheaper to deal with a European government than the US.

While I respect the need to protect some technology (like nuclear weapons design) it's important to realize that one of our competitive advantages is the free flow on information in our society. Yes, that makes it easier for our enemies to steal our technology.  But, if we allow our economy to keep growing strongly, we'll always be one step ahead.  On the other hand, if we place major restrictions on technology transfers, we risk stifling our economic growth, while only delaying our enemies' ability to get that technology.

I heard someone quote Lenin as saying "Those capitalists are so stupid,  that they will sell us the rope we need to hang them."  Being a communist, he was too ignorant to realize that we would use our profits from rope selling to buy the nails needed for the Soviet Union's coffin.

Steven W Dugger  10 21 05