The United States is seeing an increasing willingness from China to discuss space security issues, a State Department official said.

This is noteworthy because an expert on Chinese space issues said the United States has struggled to engage Beijing on space issues. Dean Cheng, a research fellow on Asian studies at the Heritage Foundation think tank, told Defense Daily on July 9 that the United States has tried to engage China on space issues for a number of years, only to be rebuffed time after time by Beijing. 

“When it comes to space, we have different expectations,” Cheng said. “(China) knows we don’t understand their space capabilities very well.”

Many could find it odd the United States would cooperate on space issues with a nation like China that some view as an adversary. But the State Department official said space cooperation with China is important so the two nations don’t misunderstand each other. He said the two nations have been working to establish this dialogue since early in President Obama’s administration.

"We would welcome a sustained space security dialogue with China, like other nations," the State Department official said. "This is important so that there are no misconceptions when it comes to space security." 

With the number of space-faring nations on the rise in the Asia-Pacific, the United States has made communication on space security issues, like space debris, part of its “pivot” to the region. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance Frank Rose said in an April speech at the National Space Symposium in Colorado the United States is working to establish a direct line of communication with China in order to provide it with timely conjunction notifications.

Conjunctions, in lay terms called collisions, involving space debris is a growing concern among space nations as the amount of debris in space rises. Space debris as small as 10 centimeters traveling in space can destroy multi-million dollar satellites. 

The United States has entered into Space Situational Awareness (SSA) agreements with a number of nations in the Asia-Pacific, including Australia. The two nations in April signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) permitting the advanced exchange of SSA data. The MoU also helps streamline the process for Australia to make specific requests about space data gathered by U.S. Strategic Command’s (STRATCOM) Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) at Vandenberg AFB, Calif.

The United States has also entered into ongoing discussions with Japan on a number of space issues, including furthering bilateral SSA talks and space security cooperation, according to the Defense Department. Rose also said in his April speech he sees a strong role for greater U.S.-India cooperation on space security issues. Rose said the two nations in 2011 launched their first space security talks as it is clear that there are significant areas of strategic convergence between the U.S. and India on space issues.