A NASA spokesperson says the agency was simply following instructions in last month's 2011 spending bill that averted a government-wide shutdown. The legislation prohibits NASA from using any resources to host visits by a Chinese official to any NASA facility as well as for collaborations with any Chinese government entity....
The language was written by Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA), chair of a House of Representatives spending panel that oversees NASA's budget. Wolf is a vocal critic of China's human rights record and what he believes are government-sanctioned cyberattacks on U.S. institutions and businesses.
Here's what Wolf said last month:
"We don't want to give them the opportunity to take advantage of our technology, and we have nothing to gain from dealing with them. And frankly, it boils down to a moral issue. ... Would you have a bilateral program with Stalin?"
The human rights violations of the Chinese government government are certainly troubling, and in a way it's refreshing to see any politician speak of them (especially when recent presidents visit China and say little-to-nothing in public about the problem). But I don't think this is the way to handle the situation. Time and again scientists have been among the first to break down barriers between nations--the canonical example being Einstein and Eddington after World War I--and one of the best things about science is its international character and inclusiveness. That's what makes inroads in advancing rights. Blunt, intransigent insistence rarely works, if it ever does. We should show the Chinese the benefits of an open society so they change themselves, not slam the door in their face until they meet our standards.
Wolf says he wants to extend the ban to Chinese NGOs next year.