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Former Democratic Sen. Nelson, potential NASA director pick, invested in Chinese telecom giant

The former Senator from Florida has long supported the idea of a closer Sino-America space relationship

Updated: February 25, 2021 - 8:14am

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

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Former Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, one of President Biden's potential choices to lead the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, is tied to a history of investments with giant Chinese tech firms. 

Nelson, a former astronaut, has financial and political to China.

Nelson has been criticized in the past for holding thousands of dollars in a mutual fund invested in China's largest telecommunications provider, the state-owned China Mobile.

In November of 2020, the State Department blacklisted the company and roughly 230 others for their ties to the Chinese military. 

Beyond financial ties, Nelson has been a longtime advocate for Sino-American space cooperation.

More than a decade-and-a-half ago, Nelson met with the Chinese ambassador the Yang Liwei, a Chinese astronaut, to discuss space issues and cooperation between the two super powers in orbit. In 2004, Nelson told the Chinese ambassador he hoped to see a joint mission to Mars with Beijing in the future. 

Brandon Weichert, a space security analyst, told the conservative-leaning publication The Washington Free Beacon: "Bill Nelson as NASA director would be the exact opposite of what we should be doing. If space is the ultimate strategic high ground, and China is keen on competing with the United States for control there, it makes little sense for the Biden administration to seek cooperation with Beijing. What's more, it is a very bad idea to place the aging Bill Nelson, who clearly has a soft spot for China, in charge of America's premier space program."

The Biden administration is not talking publicly about the NASA director post.

"I don't have any personnel announcements for you or any expectation of when we will have an announcement on the NASA administrator or a list of potential people," press secretary Jen Psaki said earlier this week. 

The Biden White House so far appears to have a less ambitious space travel agenda, compared to the Trump administration, while Russia and China appear to be hyper-focused on their programs.

"I wish I had a sense of it, but I really don't. I see what the Russians are doing and the Chinese are doing ... It's important to our security, it's important to our economy, it's important to our technological advancement," Florida GOP Rep. Bill Posey said of the Biden administration's space agenda.