The Rise of China in Space
: Technopolitical Threat Construction in American Public Policy Discourse

  • Cameron Hunter

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Particularly since China’s 2007 anti-satellite demonstration, China’s “rise” in space has predominately come to be characterised as a national security threat within American public policy discourse. Yet American representations of China’s space program as threatening, precluding cooperation, are an outlier in US-China relations, otherwise characterisable as comprised of a mix of cooperation and competition. Despite growing interest, however, this threat has been regarded as self-evident, with little research done on how and why China’s space program came to be understood this way. This thesis seeks to understand this puzzle with the first systematic investigation of the construction of a threatening “rise” of China in space, undertaking a close reading of public US space policy including original archival research into policymakers’ perspectives of China’s Cold War space program. To do so, it outlines a ‘technopolitical’ approach to threat construction analysis, positioning threat and technology within a relationship of co-construction: the “threat” of China’s “rise” in space is not pre-determined from Chinese space capabilities, so the thesis argues, rather they have been actively ‘instrumentalised’ in specific ways. A technopolitical approach to threat construction is required in this case because, equally, “threat” cannot be reduced to clashing identities, but is a product of interconnections between identities and technologies. The thesis’ three parts each address a facet of technopolitical threat construction. Part 1 contextualises the “rise,” theoretically and historically. Part 2 begins to analyse the “threat” of the “rise” after 2000, identifying key logics, objects and subjects. Part 3 explores to what extent threat discourses shaped American space technology and national identities. The thesis argues construction of the “Chinese space threat” was uneven: powerful enough to marginalise rival claims, yet failing to sanction an emergency response; and that this in itself can be best understood as technopolitical contestation within American public policy discourse.
Date of Award25 Sep 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorColumba L Peoples (Supervisor) & Yongjin Zhang (Supervisor)

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