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Law professor explains how China could claim parts of the moon

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In the wake of China’s successful landing of the Chang’e 3/Jade Rabbit on the lunar surface, law professor and purveyor of Instapundit Glenn Reynolds speculated in a December 16, 2013 oped in USA Today how China might actually make a territorial claim of parts of the moon. Since China is engaged in that very thing in the East China Sea and South China Sea, that is not an unlikely scenario.

The Outer Space Treaty, to which China is a signatory, prohibits claims of national sovereignty. However Professor Reynolds sees a possible end run around the treaty.

“First, the treaty only prohibits "national appropriation." If a Chinese company, instead of the Chinese government, were to stake a claim, it wouldn't apply. And, at any rate, China -- which didn't even join the treaty until 1983 -- can, like any other nation, withdraw at any time. All that's required under the treaty is to give a year's notice.”

Ordinarily claims by private entities are enforced by national governments using their sovereign authority, something that might tend to run counter to the Outer Space Treaty. But China may not care about such niceties.

Reynolds thinks that if China, even through a state run company, were to make a land grab on the moon, the move would light a fire under the United States and other countries and start a new space race to develop the resources of the moon. Currently the official policy of the United States is to all but ignore the moon. A move by China would likely cause that policy to be revisited, according to Reynolds.

However current NASA policy toward other countries' and private lunar efforts is to offer the space agency's assistance. Consistent with that policy, should the Chinese make a land grab on the moon, NASA might just help them do it.

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