Most geopolitical analysis is almost on Earth. But don’t forget to look up: China’s influence is rocketing the skies.
On July 23, a Long March rocket exploded from the Wencheng launch center on Hainan Island in China. The Chinese spacecraft Tianwen-1, equipped with a landing party, an orbiter and a rover, set course for Mars to begin a comprehensive survey of the Red Planet.
However, the mission on Mars is not just about discovery. It is part of a comprehensive strategy designed to bring China to the ranks of “fully developed, rich and powerful” countries by 2049.
As President Xi Jinping explained to the Taikonauts aboard Tiangong-1, China’s first prototype space station back in 2013, “the space dream is part of the dream of making China stronger.” China Xi is no longer “hiding opportunities 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 space stations (Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2), as well as a cargo ship (Tianzhou) capable of refueling other spacecraft.
In 2018, it launched more rockets into space than any other nation. A year later, China went down in history when Chang’e 4 successfully landed the first rover on the dark side of the moon.
Closer to home, the BeiDou 2 navigation system recently launched its 35th satellite, complementing its widespread constellation, which promises to provide global coverage as an alternative to US GPS and Galileo’s European positioning system.
If Tianwen-1 successfully reaches Mars, China will join the United States and the former Soviet Union as the only countries to have achieved such a space feat.
Unlike NASA and other space agencies, which aim to conduct space research to advance science, China’s space program is more about economic benefits, geostrategic positioning, and support for development goals.
By 2040, the space industry is projected at $ 2.7 trillion, according to the latest Bank of America Merrill Lynch report. China clearly plans to use this forecast.
Although the most important short- and medium-term opportunities may come from satellite broadband Internet access, the future is poised for space mining to become a profitable industry.
According to one forecast, a small asteroid about 200 meters long, rich in platinum, could get $ 30 billion. The moon has hundreds of billions of dollars in untapped resources, including helium-3, titanium and other rare earth metals.
Chinese researchers, such as Lin Mintao, are already working at the National Space Science Center to capture an asteroid around the Earth and return it to China to explore and extract its resources.
Beijing also has big plans for the moon. According to the state news agency Xinhua, the Chinese National Space Administration (CNAS) intends to set up a research station on the surface of the moon over the next decade.
If China manages to build a lunar base with industrial capacity, it could significantly reduce the cost of launching spacecraft and serve as a gateway for future space exploration.
But China’s space ambitions do not stop there. By 2022, China aims for a fully functioning Earth orbit.
It is also planned to launch various solar power plants in a low-Earth orbit designed to radiate electricity back to China. Beijing is also working on developing nuclear spacecraft by 2040, which may allow it to travel deep space.
That said, China is building a space Silk Road. This new Space Corridor, as part of the signing of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), complements its terrestrial Maritime and Land Silk Roads.
As this galactic architecture takes shape, Beijing intends to offer the international community an alternative network of reliable infrastructure, thus competing for global leadership in space.
At the same time, the space program is also intertwined with a “Made in China 2025” policy aimed at catapulting China to a world leader in high-tech manufacturing.
The Space Silk Road provides a new way to expand Indigenous China’s innovative capabilities in areas such as quantum communication, robotics, artificial intelligence and aviation.
Accordingly, it also promotes the synthesis of civil-military and the development of dual-use technologies: For example, although BeiDou can help navigate a ship through rough waters, it can also control a missile.
“In today’s world of war, space potential can help achieve geopolitical edge, military competitiveness and technological development,” said Michael Raska, an associate professor at the School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore S Rajaratnam. China is looking for all three as it embarks on its path to “great space power” status, he told regional media.
Peijiang, the head of China’s lunar intelligence program, gave her some insight into how the Chinese Communist Party sees space.
“The universe is the ocean, the moon is the Diayo Islands, Mars is the Huangyan Island. If we do not go there now, although we are able to do so, then our descendants will blame us, “E. told reporters in 2017.
“If others go there, they will take over and you will not be able to go, even if you want to. That is reason enough.”
Dale Aluf is Director of Research and Strategies at SIGNAL, a Sino-Israeli global network and academic leadership, and a member of the China Silk Road Hunting Tank Association SRTA.