Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) recently announced that he will not seek reelection in 2014. The congressman was well known for his opposition to cooperation between the U.S. and China in space. UCS criticized his approach to this question on numerous occasions.
The restrictions on U.S.—China cooperation in space are counterproductive. They punish well-meaning Chinese scientists and engineers and abet Chinese hard-liners who oppose cooperation every bit as strongly as Mr. Wolf. Lack of normal contact between the U.S. and Chinese space communities increases mistrust and misunderstanding, forestalls cooperative research that could benefit both and does little to curb China’s technological development. The restrictions are a public policy failure and before he departs Congressman Wolf should remove them. It would be a fitting end to the distinguished career of a public servant who, more often then not, advanced the role of science in the conduct of public policy.
In an age when many of our elected representatives cannot see far past the next election, Congressman Wolf took a principled stand on China and expended considerable personal effort to pursue it. His ban on cooperation in space was motivated, in part, by legitimate and important concerns about human rights in China. While the ban did little to advance human rights in China, and actually impinged upon the rights of many of the Chinese scientists and engineers caught up in the ban, the retiring congressman from Virginia deserves respect, not ridicule, for trying to make a difference.