WASHINGTON - NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said Tuesday that he does not want China to become the front-runner in lunar exploration, warning that Beijing could act in space in a manner similar to its assertion of territorial claims in the South China Sea.
"We're in a space race with China," Nelson said at a press conference. "You see the actions of the Chinese government on Earth. They go out and claim some international islands in the South China Sea and then they claim them as theirs and build military runways on them."
Nelson, who heads the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, made the remarks while speaking about the U.S-led Artemis project aimed at advancing lunar exploration and eventually returning humans to the Moon by 2025.
He stressed that the ideals of the Artemis Accords, a nonbinding set of principles for space exploration, are "the peaceful and cooperative uses of space together internationally."
The accords have been signed by 28 countries, including Australia, Britain, India, Japan and South Korea, but not China.
"So naturally, I don't want China to get to the (Moon's) south pole first with humans and then say 'this is ours, stay out,' like they've done with the Spratly Islands," Nelson said, referring to the large group of islets, shoals and reefs in the South China Sea, where Beijing has made sweeping territorial claims and built military outposts.