What makes one a worry for another?
Recent months have brought China many opportunities to complete the next stages of its plans for extraterrestrial exploration and the development of space technology. From May this year. The Martian rover Zhurong delivered the first photos to Earth, showing, among others, Chinese lander and the vehicle itself on the surface of the Red Planet (after landing on the Utopia Planitia plain). “China as the second country in the world successfully placed the rover on the surface of Mars, breaking the American monopoly” – emphasized in the state press.
The imaging data from the Zhurong rover also caused a reaction in the United States for a reason. “Watch the Chinese”, “their aggressive space program” is a challenge to the US leadership in extraterrestrial space, warned NASA’s incumbent administrator Bill Nelson in the context of a published Chinese photograph from Mars, recently persuading Congress to increase his organization’s budget so it can compete successfully with China.
“China has clearly set its goals, it wants to take away the US supremacy in space. It is not only a landing on Mars, which is very impressive, but also a few landings on the Moon and, of course, the construction of a space station in low Earth orbit, “said Nelson’s deputy at NASA, former astronaut Pamela Melroy.
The statements of politicians from outside the United States, especially from Asian countries, for which China are regional rivals, also sounded in a similar vein. During a remote meeting organized under the patronage of the American think tank Hudson Institute, Japanese deputy defense minister Yasuhide Nakayama warned against the growing threat from China in space, in cyberspace, as well as in the area of nuclear and conventional weapons development. He also stated that the growing threat was posed primarily by China’s cooperation with Russia. “We have to wake up,” he said. It strongly opposed this statement at the end of June this year. Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The warning tone of the previously cited statements by NASA representatives towards China was not clearly assessed by American commentators – some of them accused Nelson and his associates of being impressed by China’s intention to make in the West by implementing its space plans. “Making the Chinese space station such a serious threat is a mistake because it is in line with the political goals of China itself,” and reinforces the message that “they too are a space power,” said the program director of the Secure World Foundation analytical center, Brian Weeden.
Trail strewn with milestones
As has often been emphasized, building international prestige and skillfully stoking publicity is an important goal of the Chinese space program. The successes in space also translate into the internal integrity of Chinese society and the consolidation of the belief in the right line of power policy in Beijing – state propaganda presents these achievements as proof of the effectiveness of the rule of the Communist Party of China (CCP), especially in the context of this year’s grand celebration of the 100th anniversary of its existence.
Under these circumstances, PRC leader Xi Jinping recently spoke remotely with the three recently launched citizens of his country into orbit building the Chinese Tiangong space station. “We Chinese Taikonauts now have a permanent home in orbit. In space, we are proud of our party and our homeland, ”General Nie Haisheng, who was in charge of the mission, said with pathos.
Although most of the Chinese space achievements have so far been repeating the previous achievements of the US or Russia, the authorities in Beijing are consistently breaking new national restrictions and reducing the distance between their space program and the American one. This is happening according to a strictly defined, consistently and long-term implemented plan, the initial momentous event of which was the sending in 2003 of the first citizens of the Middle Kingdom into the extraterrestrial space. China made it the third country in history in the world from its own territory.
The next steps in acquiring space competences are made by China without much publicity, but it is known that these ambitions and plans are not lacking in momentum. By 2030, the Middle Kingdom plans to become a leading cosmonautic power, capable of conducting hundreds of manned and cargo rocket flights annually. The primacy is also to be achieved in the layer of satellite systems – especially in terms of reducing the production costs of Earth observation instruments, telecommunications and satellite navigation, as well as developing breakthrough quantum communication capabilities (an area where China has already proved to be a precursor in the mainstream of global research) .
Among the next milestones to be achieved by China in the “new space race,” mention is made of its willingness to seize the initiative in its quest to transport man back to the moon – which means inevitable and direct competition with the United States, which is rebuilding its lunar flight capabilities for its 50th anniversary. the latest Apollo expedition. The list of Chinese plans also includes bringing the first rock samples from Mars to Earth, and in the long term sending people to this alien world.
Space technologies with strictly military applications, which China does not shy away from, constitute a separate thread. In this context, opinions expressed in the US expressing deeper concern about the intensification of activities in the field of improving space-based weapons – not only by China – are becoming commonplace. US Army High Commander Gen. Mark Milley recently listed space as one of the “critical areas” of competition with China where “America must lead” or future generations of Americans “will find themselves in a very difficult position over China.” .
(Not) easy on the fifth operational domain
According to information provided by Space.com, China is “continuously working on military uses of space,” including satellite destruction capabilities, as well as advanced hypersonic missiles capable of breaking multi-layer missile defense systems. The West is also concerned about the plans for space cooperation with Russia, which NATO continues to recognize as an unpredictable actor with a tendency to create threats on a global scale.
Meanwhile, the Chinese authorities deny any intentions attributed to them to militarize space, and official announcements usually contain the same declaration of the will to cooperate and use outer space peacefully. “Cosmos is the common good of mankind. The Chinese share with people all over the world both the dreams and the right to explore the mysterious universe, “the state-owned news agency Xinhua assured in one of the published comments.
Such statements are followed by further statements, often directly formulated as an invitation to the general or specific countries of the world to join Chinese space initiatives – including carrying out research at the emerging orbital station in the PRC (confirmed back in May 2018 by arrangements within the UN Office for Outer Space – UNOOSA) or joint lunar exploration. Many governments intend to take advantage of such an offer – until recently, 27 countries have registered, for example, the desire to conduct experiments on a Chinese space station.
A separate scope of cooperation, calculated for a much more long-term effect, concerns the widely discussed partnership between the Chinese space agency CNSA and the Russian state-owned company Roscosmos. According to the plans described in more detail in mid-June, its goal is to create a joint research base on the moon (ILRS) by 2036, allowing for remote experiments, and in the longer term also the nucleus of a manned mission port. According to involved officials from both sides, talks are underway with potential further partners of the project – including the European Space Agency (ESA).
China started building its own space station, among other reasons because the local scientists did not have the right to access research conducted for over 20 years on the International Space Station (ISS). At that time, it was visited by over 200 scientists from 19 countries, but there were no Chinese citizens among them.
While the ISS was primarily an American-Russian enterprise, born of the experience of collaboration at Mir, China’s Tiangong is being built at a time when, as recently reported by CNN, there is more and more talk of a “new cold war.” According to its commentators, space alliances will increasingly reflect the geopolitical divisions on Earth, and competition in the US-China relationship is clearly growing.
In parallel, the US is building an international coalition for the safe and responsible exploration of the moon. The Artemis Accords agreement promoted by NASA has so far been signed by 12 countries around the world, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan and South Korea. Here, too, there is talk of building a broader front of states clustered around a specific (American) political and development leadership.
“I hope this competition will push the US, China and other countries to work on space technologies and capabilities that will benefit everyone on earth. If the emphasis on rhetoric us or them will be too big, competition in outer space can exacerbate the tensions that threaten conflict here on Earth, and that would be bad for everyone, ”concluded Brian Weeden of the Secure World Foundation in his conclusion to the above-mentioned reflection.
Source: NASA / PAP / Xinhua – developed by Andrzej Borowiak, Marcin Kamassa