China sees opportunity in Aust space plans

Executives from major Chinese robotics and technology firms say Australia’s new national space agency will provide excellent opportunities for engagement and cooperation between the two countries.

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Following the Federal government’s announcement on Monday that an Australian space agency will be created, Justin Gong, co-founder of drone manufacturer Xaircraft, said China would jump at the chance to engage with an Australian space program.

Mr Gong, a global flight control system designer and creator of unmanned aerial vehicles, said the timing was right for greater involvement between Australia and China on space research.

“I see the opportunity – over the past decades we see this in business terms more so than military, because we have commercial motivations now rather than government just seeing nations competing,” Mr Gong said.

Mr Gong said an Australian division of Xaircraft that sells drones to the agricultural industry is already eyeing a potential listing on the Australian stock exchange.

Top Chinese robotics firm UBTech’s chief strategy officer, Bruce Ren, said China sees its space program as a national priority and Australia is far closer than other established players.

“This is wonderful news,” he said of the space agency plan.

“China and Australia share an innovation outlook, we are in the same time zone and China has been investing heavily in space technology.”

On China’s first national Space Day on April 24, 2016, President Xi Jinping said it was time for China to “seize the strategic opportunity”

“Becoming an aerospace power has always been the dream we have been striving for,” President Xi said.

According to state media, China spends about US$2 billion a year on its space program after it became the third country to launch a human into space in 2003 and has been expanding its space program ever since.

Australia by contrast, has until today’s announcement been one of only a handful of OECD countries without a national space agency in an industry expected to be worth $330 billion.

In an earlier statement, acting Industry Minister Michaelia Cash said Australia will use its space sector to engage globally.

“The agency will be the anchor for our domestic coordination and the front door for our international engagement,” Ms Cash said.

However, Professor Luigi Tomba, director of the University of Sydney’s China Studies Centre, said any international partnership required the government to use absolute vetting or absolute trust.

“If there is any risk of technological transfer that’s not welcomed by Australia – that must be secured at all costs,” Professor Tomba said.