Most geopolitical analyzes are quite low on Earth. But don’t forget to look up: China’s influence is rocket over the sky.
On July 23, a March 5 rocket was fired from the Wenchen launch center on China’s Hainan Island. Equipped with a terrifier, an orbiter and a flyer, the Chinese Tianwen-1 spacecraft has set off to begin a full probe of the red planet.
Mars ’mission, however, is not just about discovering. It is part of a global strategy designed to push China into the ranks of “fully developed, rich and powerful” nations by 2049.
As President Xi Jinping explained to Taikonauts aboard the Tiangong-1, China’s first prototype space station in 2013, “the space dream is part of China’s dream of making it stronger.” Xi’s China is no longer “hiding capabilities and keeping a low profile,” it is “striving to achieve,” he said at the time.
Under Xi’s command, the People’s Republic has launched two prototype spacecraft (Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2), as well as a cargo ship (Tianzhou) capable of powering other spacecraft.
In 2018, it fired more rockets into the cosmos than any other nation. A year later, China made history when Chang’e 4 successfully landed the first rover in the dark part of the Moon.
Closer to home, the BeiDou 2 navigation system recently launched its 35th satellite, completing its extensive constellation that promises to provide global coverage as an alternative to America’s GPS and Galileo’s positioning system. Europe.
If Tianwen-1 successfully arrives on Mars, China will join the United States and the former Soviet Union as the only nations to have achieved this space feat.
Unlike NASA and other space agencies whose stated goals are to conduct space explorations for the advancement of science, China’s space program is more concerned with economic gains, geostrategic positioning, and development goals.
By 2040, the space industry is projected to be worth $ 2.7 trillion, according to a recent Bank of America Merrill Lynch report. China clearly plans to capitalize on this projection.
While the most significant opportunities in the short and medium term may come from satellite broadband Internet access, the future is for space mining to emerge as a profitable industry.
A small asteroid about 200 meters long that is rich in platinum could reach up to $ 30 billion, according to a calculated calculation. The Moon has untapped resource resources for hundreds of millions of dollars, including helium-3, titanium, and other rare earth metals.
Chinese researchers like Lin Mingtao are already working at the National Space Science Center to capture an asteroid close to Earth and bring it back to China to inspect and extract its resources.
Beijing also has big plans for the Moon. According to the state-run Xinhua news agency, the National Space Administration of China (CNAS) intends to establish a lunar surface research station over the next decade.
If China manages to build an industrial-based Moon base, it could significantly lower the costs of launching spacecraft and serve as a gateway to future space exploration.
But China’s space ambitions don’t stop there. By 2022, China wants to have a fully operational space station orbiting the Earth.
It is also planned to launch a variety of low-earth orbiting solar power plants designed to generate electricity back in China. Beijing is also working to develop nuclear-powered spacecraft by 2040, which will make it possible to conceive of deep space travel.
All told, China is building a space silk road. As part of Xi’s Xi and Road Initiative (BRI) signature, this new cosmic corridor complements its land and sea routes of land silk.
As this galactic architecture forms, Beijing aims to offer the international community a network of credible alternative infrastructures, thus competing for global leadership in space.
At the same time, the space program is also linked to “Made in China 2025,” a policy aimed at catapulting China to become a world leader in high-tech manufacturing.
The Space Silk Road provides a new path to enhance China’s indigenous innovation capabilities in fields such as quantum communication, robotics, artificial intelligence and aviation.
Consequently, it also promotes civil-military fusion and the development of dual-use technologies: for example, while BeiDou can help navigate a ship through stormy waters, it can also guide a missile.
“In modern warfare, space capability can help achieve geopolitical advantage, military competitiveness and technological development,” said Michael Raska, an assistant professor at S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang University of Technology in Singapore. China is looking for all three as it begins the journey to the state of “great space power,” it told regional media.
Ye Peijian, the head of China’s lunar exploration program, has provided some insights into the Communist Party of China’s vision of space.
“The universe is an ocean, the Moon is the Diaoyu Islands, Mars is Huangyan Island. If we don’t go there now, even if we are able to do it, we will be blamed by our descendants, ”he told reporters in 2017.
“If others pass by, they’ll take care of it and you can’t go even if you want to. That’s reason enough.”
Dale Aluf is the Director of Research and Strategy for SIGNAL, Sino-Israel Global Network & Academic Leadership – a member of the China Silk Road Think Tank SRTA Association.