The Director General of the European Space Agency, Josef Aschbacher, indicated at the 2023 re-entry press conference that ESA, the European Space Agency, has neither the budgetary capacity nor the political intention to send its astronauts to the Chinese space station.
This announcement puts an end to the cooperation in the programs for manned flights, the sending of European astronauts in the Chinese station or the human exploration of the Moon, but does not call into question the ongoing partnerships in current or future space programs such as those related to the observation of the Earth or non-sensitive technical supports.
If the explanations provided by Josef Aschbacher are polite, they are in contrast to the plans that ESA and China had in 2017, in which it was envisaged to send European astronauts on board the Tiangong laboratory and the Chinese space station by 2030. European astronauts had already participated in sea survival training with sixteen Chinese astronauts and Chinese astronaut Ye Guangfu had completed ESA’s European astronaut training program, Caves, which sends astronauts to train in caves, which can provide conditions similar to those in space.
Nevertheless, China has difficulty finding international partners apart from Russia, even though it is negotiating with an intergovernmental group that has not taken a position in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, composed of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar. This difficulty in finding partnerships had begun before the start of the conflict in Ukraine, with the gradual distancing of its historical partners such as ESA and countries, such as France, which no longer mentions new partnerships since the one launched in 2018 concerning the Franco-Chinese satellite CFOSAT.
The French president, for example, now speaks of aeronautical cooperation but no longer mentions the space domain. For all that, China is not planning a completely integrated technical cooperation with Russia because on the one hand it can rely on its own development and has less and less need for Russian expertise and on the other hand a too pronounced partnership with Russia could have more disadvantages than advantages, while at the same time, Russia continues to need Chinese resources.