International Cooperation in Space Activities: Legal Imperative and the Chinese Perspective

Posted: 28 Sep 2020

See all articles by Eytan Tepper

Eytan Tepper

McGill University - Institute of Air and Space Law; China University of Political Science and Law; New York University School of Law

Date Written: August 12, 2020


This study inquires into the legal status of the principle of international cooperation in space activities and the Chinese perspective in this regard. Furthermore, the study presents theoretical and practical models for cooperation, utilizing economic theory and the practice of China, with a comparative case study of Israel.

The importance of the research lies in the importance associated to international cooperation, being heralded in every conference on space issues, the unclear legal status of the principle and the intrinsic complexities and barriers for its implementation.

The study found that the principle is a recurrent theme in almost every space law instrument, including all five space related treaties, all the annual UN General Assembly resolutions on space activities, and a dedicated 1996 Declaration on International Cooperation in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space. Analyzing the various instruments and their aggregate effect, against the backdrop of the principle in general international law, the study concludes that the precept of ‘international cooperation’ is a structural principle of space law, a legal imperative and the prime constitutional norm of the field in light of which all space policies should be constructed.

However, there are inherent difficulties and complexities hampering the achievement of cooperation in a decentralized international society and some space-specific hurdles, mainly export controls. Applying Ostrom’s Nobel-winning study (2009, Economic Sciences) suggests a polycentric model for promoting the basic norm of international cooperation neither by a strong, central, global institution, nor by rules imposed from above, but rather by facilitating and encouraging clusters of cooperation which will together encompass the vast majority of countries.

China has long been advocating for international cooperation on the basis of equality and mutual benefit. International cooperation is in the core also of its civil space policy. It has joined most of the multilateral organizations and forums, hosts and leads the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization, and is increasingly engaging with bilateral cooperation, primarily agency-to-agency. Overall, China's array of cooperation schemes encompasses scientific and educational projects, the building and launch of satellites, satellite navigation systems and even the use of remote sensing for the preservation of natural and cultural heritage and the envisioned cooperation in the Chinese space station.

Israel, being by far the smallest space-faring nation, best exemplifies the benefits from cooperation and the extent to which it can leverage domestic resources and capabilities. Its diverse models of cooperation may be of interest and use to other countries.

Keywords: International cooperation, cooperative space activities, International Law, Space Law, Space policy, China & international law and order, Chinese space policy, Israeli space program, Israeli space policy

Suggested Citation

Tepper, Eytan, International Cooperation in Space Activities: Legal Imperative and the Chinese Perspective (August 12, 2020). Available at SSRN:

Eytan Tepper (Contact Author)

McGill University - Institute of Air and Space Law ( email )

3644 Peel Street
Montreal H3A 1W9, Quebec

China University of Political Science and Law

25 Xitucheng Rd
Haidian District

New York University School of Law ( email )

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics