WASHINGTON: US commercial satellite sales to AsiaSat, and the company’s leasing of communications bandwidth to China, are not threats to US national security, say experts — contrary to charges by Republican Senators Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst. Instead, US export control law very deliberately has been crafted to encourage such sales in a series of reforms starting in the Obama Administration and being accelerated by the Trump Administration.
“This is not a loophole; it’s a deliberate feature of U.S. trade policy. Commercial SATCOM bandwidth is a commodity and there is no threat to national security by leasing these transponders to a foreign government,” Brian Weeden, director of program planning at Secure World Foundation, told me today in no uncertain terms. “In fact, the Trump Administration’s current trade negotiations with China are aimed at expanding sale of U.S. commodities with China.”
“We don’t prohibit soybean sales to China because they could be being eaten by PLA,” said one exasperated industry representative. “This is not a loophole … it’s a legal action that has been taken. It is a decision made by the US government regarding the equities; that is that the US benefits more by selling soybeans and bandwidth to China than it risks.
Sens. Grassley and Ernst stirred up a hornets nest of allegations in a June 27 letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, decrying the use of Boeing-made satellites by AsiaSat and the leasing of SATCOM bandwidth by the company as an insidious exploitation of by China to steal US technology for military uses.
“First, China reportedly rents bandwidth from satellites that it is otherwise prohibited from buying. …. Second, Chinese-owned companies based in Hong Kong– including some which seem to act on behalf of the Chinese government – have been able to purchase satellites from American manufacturers.” The senators also allege — based on a Wall Street Journal article from April — that Beijing has used, and is using, the Boeing-built communication satellites to repress human rights within China.