Most geopolitical analyzes are far down the Earth. But remember: China’s influence is rocking the skies.
On July 23, a March 5 rocket exploded from the Wenchen Launch Center on China’s Hainan Island. Equipped with a terrestrial ground, an orbiter and a rover, the Chinese spacecraft Tianwen-1 has paved the way for Mars to begin a comprehensive study of the Red Planet.
However, the mission of Mars is not just about discovery. It forms part of a comprehensive strategy designed to push China into the ranks of “fully developed, rich and powerful” nations by 2049.
As President Xi Jinping explained to the Taikonauts aboard the Tiangong-1, China̵7;s first prototype space station in 2013, “the space dream is part of the dream to make China 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 space stations (Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2), as well as a cargo ship (Tianzhou) capable of refueling the other spacecraft.
In 2018, it fired more rockets into space than any other nation. A year later, China made history when Chang’e 4 successfully landed its first rover on the dark side of the Moon.
Closer to home, the BeiDou 2 navigation system recently launched its 35th satellite, ending its fiery constellation that promises to provide global coverage as an alternative to America’s GPS and Galileo Positioning system of Europe.
If Tianwen-1 successfully reaches Mars, China will join the US and the former Soviet Union as the only nations to have achieved such a spatial feat.
Unlike NASA and other space agencies, whose stated goals are to conduct space research to advance science, China’s space program is more interested in economic benefits, geostrategic positioning, and development support goals.
By 2040, the space industry is projected to be worth $ 2.7 trillion, according to a recent Bank of America report by Merrill Lynch. China clearly plans to capitalize on this projection.
While the most significant short- and medium-term opportunities may come from broadband satellite internet access, the future is poised to see space mining emerge as a lucrative industry.
A small asteroid approximately 200 meters in length that is rich in platinum could reach up to $ 30 billion, estimates a projection. The moon possesses hundreds of billions of dollars of untapped resources, including helium-3, titanium, and other rare earth metals.
Chinese researchers like Lin Mingtao are already working under the National Space Science Center to capture an asteroid near Earth and bring it back to China to inspect and extract its sources.
Beijing also has big plans for the moon. According to the state-run Xinhua news agency, the National Space Administration of China (CNAS) aims to set up a lunar surface study station within the next decade.
If China manages to build a lunar base with industrial capacity, it could significantly reduce the costs of launching the spacecraft and serve as an entrance for space exploration in the future.
But China’s spatial ambitions do not stop here. By 2022, China aims to have a fully operational space station orbiting the Earth.
There are also plans to launch a variety of solar-powered solar-powered low-Earth orbit to shut down electricity in China. Beijing is also working to develop nuclear-powered spacecraft by 2040, which will imaginatively enable deep space travel.
All told, China is building a space silk road. Within the framework of Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) initiative, this new cosmic corridor complements its Silk Sea and Land Routes.
As this galactic architecture takes shape, Beijing aims to provide the international community with a reliable alternative network of infrastructure, thus competing for global leadership in space.
At the same time, the space program is also intertwined with “Made in China 2025”, a policy designed to catapult China to become a global leader in high-tech manufacturing.
The Silk Road Space provides a new way to enhance China’s indigenous innovation capabilities in areas such as quantum communications, robotics, artificial intelligence, and aviation.
Accordingly, 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 launch a missile.
“In modern warfare, space capability can help achieve a geopolitical advantage, military competitiveness and technological development,” said Michael Raska, assistant professor at S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang University of Technology, Singapore. China is looking for all three when it begins its journey towards “great space power” status, he told regional media.
Ye Peijian, head of China’s lunar exploration program, has given an insight into how the Communist Party of China views space.
“The universe is an ocean, the moon is the Diaoyu Islands, Mars is the Huangyan island. “If we do not go there now, even though we are capable of doing so, then we will be blamed by our descendants,” he told reporters in 2017.
“If others go there, then 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 strategy at SIGNAL, Sino-Israel Global Network & Leadership Academic – a member of the China Silk Road Think Tank SRTA Association.