Most geopolitical analyzes are quite close to Earth. But don’t forget to look up: China’s influence is skyrocketing.
On July 23, a “Long March 5” rocket exploded from a launch center in Wenhen on the Chinese island of Hainan. Equipped with a perch, orbital and rover, the Chinese spacecraft Tianwen-1 has set a course for Mars to begin a comprehensive study of the Red Planet.
However, Mars’ mission is not just about discovery. It is part of an overall strategy designed to bring China into the ranks of “fully developed, rich and powerful” nations by 2049.
As President Xi Jinping explained to Tyconaouti aboard Tiangong-1
Under Xi’s command, the People’s Republic launched two prototype space stations (Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2), as well as a cargo ship (Tianzhou) capable of loading other spacecraft.
In 2018, it launched more rockets into space than any other nation. A year later, China made 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 scattered constellation, which promises to provide global coverage as an alternative to US GPS and Europe’s Galileo positioning system.
If Tianwen-1 successfully reaches Mars, China will join the United States and the former Soviet Union as the only countries to achieve such a space feat.
Unlike NASA and other space agencies, whose stated goals are to conduct space research to advance science, China’s space program is more concerned with economic gains, geostrategic positioning, and support for development goals.
By 2040, the space industry is expected to be worth $ 2.7 trillion, according to a recent report by Bank of America Merrill Lynch. China apparently plans to take advantage of this forecast.
While the most important short- and medium-term opportunities may come from satellite broadband Internet access, the future is poised to see that space digging will become a lucrative industry.
According to one estimate, a small asteroid about 200 meters long, rich in platinum, could bring up to 30 billion dollars. 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 Mingtao are already working at the National Space Science Center to photograph an asteroid near Earth and return it to China to inspect 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 lunar surface research station within the next decade.
If China succeeds in building a lunar base with industrial capacity, this could significantly reduce the cost of launching spacecraft and serve as a portal for future space exploration.
But China’s space ambitions do not stop there. By 2022, China aims to have a fully operational space station in Earth orbit.
There are also plans to launch various solar power plants into a low-Earth orbit designed to radiate electricity back to China. Beijing is also working to develop nuclear-powered spacecraft by 2040, which could possibly allow deep space travel.
That said, China is building a space path of silk. As part of the Car and Road Signing Initiative (BRI), this new space corridor complements its terrestrial sea and land silk roads.
As this galactic architecture takes shape, Beijing intends to offer the international community an alternative reliable infrastructure network, thus competing for global leadership in space.
At the same time, the space program is intertwined with Made in China 2025, a policy designed to eject China to become a world leader in high-tech manufacturing.
The Silk Space Path provides a new way to improve China’s ability to innovate in areas such as quantum communications, robotics, artificial intelligence and aviation.
Accordingly, it also promotes civil-military synthesis and the development of dual-use technologies: For example, while BeiDou can help navigate a ship through rough waters, it can also guide a missile.
“In modern wars, space capacity can help achieve geopolitical advantage, military competitiveness and technological development,” said Michael Raska, an assistant professor at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University of Singapore. China is looking for all three as it embarks on a journey to “great space power” status, he told regional media.
Ye Peijian, head of China’s lunar exploration program, provided some insight into how the Chinese Communist Party views space.
“The universe is the ocean, the moon is the Diaoyu Islands, Mars is Huangyang Island. “If we don’t go there now, even though we are able to do it, then we will be blamed by our descendants,” Ye told reporters in 2017.
“If others go there, then they will take power, and you will not be able to go, even if you want to. That’s reason enough. “
Dale Aluf is Director of Research and Strategy at SIGNAL, a Sino-Israeli global network and academic leadership, a member of the Chinese Silk Road Inventory Association (SRTA).