China slams Nasa chief Nelson as race to the moon gets heated

Nasa Administrator Bill Nelson said that the world should be concerned that China might lay claim to the moon. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - The competition between the US and China to explore outer space turned prickly after Chinese diplomats blasted the head of Nasa and encouraged neighbouring countries to support Beijing's plan for exploring the moon.

China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian on Monday (July 4) accused Nasa Administrator Bill Nelson of lying "through his teeth" in response to reported comments in a German tabloid about the space competition between the two countries.

The Bild newspaper cited Nelson as saying the world should be concerned that China might lay claim to the moon and stop other countries from exploring it. In the interview, he also accused China of stealing technology from other nations and said Beijing was learning how to destroy satellites launched by other countries.

"This is not the first time for the chief of Nasa to lie through his teeth and smear China," Zhao said at the Foreign Ministry's daily press conference. "In recent years the US openly defined space as a war-fighting domain." Nasa didn't respond to a request for comment.

During a meeting on Monday with officials from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called on Southeast Asian nations to join the International Lunar Research Station, a proposed project on or near the moon backed by China and Russia.

Beijing has promoted the ILRS as an alternative to the Artemis Accords, a Washington-backed effort launched in 2020 aimed at supporting Nasa's efforts to return astronauts to the moon this decade.

While Beijing and Moscow haven't gotten other governments to commit to their project, several countries have signed the Artemis Accords, principles designed to govern activity on the moon, Mars and beyond.

Signatories include Nato allies such as Canada, Italy and Britain, as well as Brazil, Mexico and Ukraine.

Last month, France became the 20th country to sign on to the Artemis club, joining other recent signatories such as Singapore and Colombia.

China has criticised the accords as a US effort to create a Nato in outer space, most recently in a July 3 opinion piece published in the Global Times newspaper.

"In contrast with the US lunar exploration project known as the 'Artemis Accords', which experts believe reveals its 'exclusive nature for mimicking a space-based NATO', China and Russia's partnership stresses bringing advancement for all, with the vision of building a community with a shared future for mankind," the article said.

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