Italy made to choose between American or Chinese space collaboration


ROME – Italy succumbs to a “crescendo of pressure”, reports La Republicca

  Despite signing bilateral agreements with China, ASI (Italian Space agency) signed a cooperation agreement with US space program Artemis in Nov 2019. ASI hopes to win NASA financing to create the model of the USA station that will go into orbit around the Moon by 2024. This agreement realigns ASI alongside its long-standing partner NASA, rather than the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA).

  Italy was previously thought to have aligned themselves with Chinese interests, following talks between Giuseppe Conte and Xi Jinping in Rome, March 2019. After discussions, the two leaders signed multiple bilateral cooperation documents, according to official Chinese sources. ASI was to collaborate in the construction of the Chinese space station, Tiangong 3, and the technology would have been produced in Turin. The Chinese space station is expected to become operational in 2022, according to the China Academy of Space and Technology. 

  ASI had signed a memorandum of understanding with CNSA, with the understanding that by strengthening long term bilateral ties China would advance the construction of the Belt and Road initiative and Italy's Investlitalia program would benefit.

  However, former ASI commissioner Piero Benvenuti raised reservations after the signing of the memorandum. He said that collaboration with the Chinese "is important but delicate, because we do not want to ruin relations with NASA", according to formiche. NASA is the principal financer of Italian space development and long-standing partner of ASI, and the Italian government has prioritised this with the signing of the US cooperation agreement.

  Competition between the US and China is thought to have pressured the realignment, La Republicca reports. In Nov 2019, a report to congress called the 'US-China Economic and Security Review Commission' coincided with this political shift, making the claim that China was “engaging in an extensive campaign of intellectual property theft, generous state support to commercial startups, and predatory pricing for Chinese space services in the global space market.”