The People’s Republic of China’s Chang’e-7 lunar mission has lost the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as a partner due to US export control rules, which restrict the sale or export of items, technologies, and software classified as defence-related for national security reasons. This setback comes as China seeks partners for a moon landing at the south pole, which is fundamental to constructing a research station on the lunar surface.
The South China Morning Post reports that the UAE is unable to participate in the Chang’e 7 mission, which aims to discover water ice near the moon’s south pole as a foundation for the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS). The UAE was contracted to deliver the Rashid II rover for the mission, scheduled for 2026, under an agreement signed with China in September 2022. However, this agreement now conflicts with the US government’s International Trade in Arms Regulations (ITAR).
ITAR, established in 1976, is part of US export regulations aimed at restricting trade and controlling defence and military technologies and services. The rules apply to all US citizens and businesses, as well as foreign companies and individuals with access to US-origin items specified in ITAR. The regulations are designed to limit certain entities’ access to sensitive components made in the US, thus preventing the UAE’s Rashid II rover from participating in China’s Chang’e 7 mission. No official comment on this matter has been received yet.
China has already gained lunar exploration experience through the successful Chang’e 5 mission, which brought 1.73 kg of lunar samples back to Earth in December 2020. The Rashid II rover would have been the UAE’s second device to land on the lunar surface. Currently, the 10 kg Rashid I is in lunar orbit, with a landing attempt planned for next month aboard the Japanese Hakuto-R lander.
Despite issues surrounding the joint lunar mission, China and the UAE appear to be strengthening cooperation in space capabilities. China is increasing its presence in the Middle East’s space sector, which recently led to the signing of a letter of intent to build a joint research and development centre in Abu Dhabi. This project will enable scientists from both countries to collaborate on new satellites and research telescopes, marking the beginning of future joint space exploration.