A solution to the U.S.-China trade deficit?

With the successful launch and return of the Shenozhou 6 earlier this week, China is in the grips of space fever. And like most other things Chinese these days, it hasn’t taken long for someone to figure out how to make a buck/RMB/yen/Euro.

The Taipei Times is running a story today with the headline:

“US company begins selling lunar land rights to Chinese.”

A US company has set up operations in China to sell land on the moon for 115 yuan (US$15) a hectare, cashing in on renewed interest in space travel after the successful five-day voyage of Shenzhou VI.

The so-called Lunar Embassy, touted as the first extraterrestrial estate agency, started operations on Wednesday in Beijing, the China Daily reported.

It will issue customers a “certificate” that ensures property ownership, including rights to use the land and minerals up to 3km underground, said Li Jie, agent for the company in China.

“We define it as a kind of novelty gift with the potential of unlimited increase in value,” said Li.

Lunar Embassy was set up by US entrepreneur Dennis Hope in 1980, 11 years after the Apollo II mission first landed on the moon.

Hope believes a loophole in the 1967 UN Outer Space Treaty makes his sales legitimate. The agreement forbids governments from owning extraterrestrial property but fails to mention corporations or individuals.

Apparenly, it isn’t just the Chinese that are buying. According to the article, over 3.5 million customers have been served a little slice of the lunar pie, and Hope has branches in 7 other coutries, including the US, Germany, Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

I have no idea on what basis this guy thinks he can claim the moon on a commerical basis, but there is one interesting plot twist:

The company could run into problems in China, though, with the Chaoyang District branch of Beijing’s Administration for Industry and Commerce launching an investigation.

The Beijing News cited Chaoyang bureau staff as saying sale of land on the moon was not listed as the company’s business when it was registered.

I wonder how much longer it will be before we have a headline that reads: “Chinese company begins selling lunar land rights domesically.”