Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian’s Regular Press Conference on December 28, 2021
CNR: The UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space said the other day on its official website that on December 3, the Permanent Mission of China to the UN and other International Organizations in Vienna sent a note verbale addressed to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, informing him that Starlink satellites launched by Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) of the US had two close encounters with the China Space Station this year, posing a threat to the safety of the astronauts in the station. Could you confirm this? As a State Party to the Outer Space Treaty, what international responsibility should the US assume for relevant activities?
Zhao Lijian: I can confirm that Starlink satellites launched by SpaceX of the US had two close encounters with the China Space Station in July and October this year respectively when Chinese astronauts were working there. For safety considerations, the China Space Station implemented preventive collision avoidance control.
The 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which is widely recognized as the cornerstone of international space law, stipulates that “States Parties to the Treaty shall regard astronauts as envoys of mankind in outer space”; respect and protect their safety; “immediately inform the other States Parties to the Treaty or the Secretary-General of the United Nations of any phenomena they discover in outer space … which could constitute a danger to the life or health of astronauts”; and “bear international responsibility for national activities in outer space” conducted by their private companies. To fulfill its Treaty obligations and ensure the safety of astronauts, the Chinese government informed the UN Secretary-General of the above dangerous phenomena as well as the measures taken by the Chinese side on December 3 through its Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Vienna and requested the Secretary-General to circulate the information to all States Parties. The US claims to be a strong advocate of the concept of “responsible behavior in outer space”, but it disregarded its Treaty obligations and posed a grave threat to the safety of astronauts. This is typical double standard.
Exploration and peaceful uses of outer space is a common cause of all humanity. Guided by the vision of advancing the welfare of all, China is committed to peaceful uses of space. The US should respect international order in space based on international law, take prompt measures to prevent such incidents from recurring, and act responsibly to safeguard the safety of in-orbit astronauts and the safe and steady operation of space facilities.