Recently, a story in the open press described the signing of an MOU between the Chinese and the UAE for “space science” partnerships.
What I find interesting about this story is a few small parts of the story that many may have glossed over.
First, notice the title of the UAE member that signed the MOU, “Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces”. A question to ask is why would the Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces sign an MOU regarding “space science” and the “peaceful uses of outer space” with the People’s Republic of China, who despite their best efforts to pretend their space efforts at CNSA are “civilian”, run their space efforts through the People’s Liberation Army. I am curious what types of “science” they plan to cooperate on as the UAE refers to itself as “a strategic partner and a gate for the People’s Republic to the Middle East”, and “forms an important component of China’s” ‘Belt and Road Initiative”, which offers an invaluable opportunity to enhance welfare and economic development in the Middle East. ”
It appears that the “science” they plan to cooperate and share information on relates to “research and development of satellites for scientific, testing, remote sensing, and communications purposes. The collaboration will include services such as launching, follow up, control, as well as developing and controlling ground satellite systems.” A few of these could all have military purposes given that the UAE views itself as a “strategic partner” with the Chinese. Remote Sensing is one area that could prove to be of concern to American strategic planners given the last few years of deliberations regarding the FalconEye satellites, which while built in France, have US optical components subject to ITAR controls. It is possible, that these “earth observation” satellites could be used for sharing military data with the Chinese to aid their naval, air and space advancements into the region. These advancements include collaboration on energy in addition to space, thus providing more background on what the UAE may be providing the Chinese in return for becoming a Middle Eastern space power.
The UAE has traditionally been an ally of the United States in the region but this MOU has me asking questions and curious about this partnership. It could be simply what it says it is, or it could be the start of something more strategically impacting for the United States and its role in the world and in space. This will be something to watch with great interest as the UAE and China continue to move ahead in space cooperation.