The threat in China's space race
China launched Shenzhou V, its first manned spacecraft, for a mission of 14 orbits on Oct. 14. Astronaut Yang Liwei (楊利偉) landed smoothly in Inner Mongolia 21 hours later. Putting a man into space is a milestone for China's space program, which started before 1960, the year in which the first modern spacecraft was launched. China's first satellite, which transmitted China's Communist Party (CCP) anthem "The East is Red," was launched in 1970. With technical assistance from the US, China has developed reliable space launch and satellite recovery capabilities from 1985. By Oct. 2000, China had developed and launched dozens of commercial satellites, with a flight success rate of over 90 percent.
\nThe unmanned Shenzhou I (SZ-1, or Divine Vessel 1) was launched and recovered on Nov. 20 and Nov. 21, 1999. The SZ-3 was launched on March 24 last year and recovered on April 1 that year. It left the forward module in orbit, carrying a sophisticated remote-sensing payload, which transmitted high-quality data to Chinese monitoring stations.
\nAccording to Bill Gertz of The Washington Times, Shenzhou V also carried a new military intelligence-gathering satellite, which was placed into orbit shortly after the SZ-5 began its mission. In addition, the SZ-5 is reported to have conducted photographic surveillance using a 1.6m resolution infrared camera.
\nChina has an ambitious space program with an annual budget of US$2 billion. In 1999 the government created the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) to oversee national defense and aerospace endeavors.
\nOver 130 organizations fall under the CASC, including five research academies, two large research and manufacturing firms and a number of research institutes, factories, and companies in which CASC has shares. CASC has about 110,000 employees, and although it has general responsibility for manned space flights and the Long March-series rockets, it is the PLA which controls China's space program, specifically the Second Artillery Corp -- China's nuclear strike force.
\nChina plans to build and put into orbit its own space station. Ouyang Ziyuan (歐陽自遠), chief scientist of China's moon exploration program, has stated: "China is expected to complete its first exploration of the moon in 2010 and will establish a base on the moon." Huang Chunping (黃春平), chief of the Long March rocket program, has declared that, "China has the capacity within three to four years to walk on the moon. In 15 years China will match the world's top level of space technology."
\nMany commentators have raised the question of why China wants to put a man on the moon when the country has problems in feeding and clothing all its people. China has myriad pressing challenges such as high unemployment and poverty in rural areas, insolvent state banks, environmental degradation, rampant corruption and social unrest.
\nSo why not give priority to economic development, respect human rights and generally improve its people's quality of life?
\nThe answer lies in the aggrieved nationalism deeply ingrained in the Chinese psyche. All Chinese are indoctrinated by the education system to believe that the Chinese are a unique race, all non-Chinese are essentially barbarians and that China is the center of the world.
\nChina must develop economic wealth and military power so it can exact retribution from the foreign powers which have humiliated China for over a century following the Opium War. No PLA officer or PRC official can retain his or her position without paying homage to this obsessive Chinese nationalism.
\nGiven this background, Beijing's pursuit of a robust and long-term space program is actually a rational decision to garner economic, political and military benefits. Economically, the CASC employs more than 40,000 researchers, academics and other technical staff, preventing brain drain from the critical human resource sector.
\nChina hopes the success of Shenzhou V may trigger renewed interest in its commercial satellite-launch industry.
\nThe aura of technological prowess may also encourage direct foreign investment from countries such as Singapore and Taiwan.
\nSince the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, the CCP has lost its "mandate from Heaven." Communist ideology no longer has any credibility. Beijing's rule is now based on two things: the promise of rising standards of living as a trade-off for lack of freedom, and appeals to nationalism. A manned spacecraft not only earns prestige abroad, it also makes the Chinese people feel proud of their country. This national pride "vindicates" the communist system and enhances the party's legitimacy.
\nBy far the most important justification for China's space program, however, is based in the military arena.
\nChina has studied US military performance in the 1991 Gulf War and the campaigns in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. US battlefield dominance is due to its advanced C4ISR capabilities (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance), which in turn rely on military satellites.
\nSpace-based military assets are thus both the US' strength and its Achilles heel.
\nTo realize its ambition to become a regional hegemon and thereafter to challenge US dominance of the world, China must catch up to this revolution in military affairs and learn to destroy US military assets in space. So a momentous long-term arms race in space has started.
\nFor Taiwan, the impact of China's space program is more immediate and threatening.
\nPLA doctrine is to take Taiwan by a surprise, multi-pronged attack, including information warfare and massive missile attacks. This would be followed by bombing, a naval blockade, occupation of air bases and ports by airborne and air-mobile forces, together with special operations by forces already deployed on the island and those deployed after the onset of the attack. If necessary, there would also be an amphibious assault.
\nThe objective is to subjugate Taiwan and secure a fait accompli before the US can intervene. China's space program will greatly improve the chances of success for this "rapid war, rapid resolution" strategy.
\nBetween 2005 and 2010, China's space-based surveillance infrastructure could include synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites for all-weather, day-night monitoring of military activities; electronic reconnaissance satellites to detect electronic emissions in the western Pacific; and mid-to-high resolution electro-optical satellites for early warning, targeting and mission planning. SAR and electronic reconnaissance satellites would detect and track naval activity, such as carrier battle groups and submarines.
\nIn addition, China is constructing 20 differential global positioning system stations along its eastern seaboard that could enhance the accuracy of the PLA's 650 short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) targeting Taiwan.
\nThe SRBMs, augmented by medium-range ballistic missiles and land-attack cruise missiles, could provide the PLA with a significant advantage in a future conflict with Taiwan, and also place US forces at risk should a decision be made to intervene.
\nSo what can Taiwan do to cope with the PLA's growing military capability?
\nIn addition to improving combat readiness through regular and realistic military exercises and the training of reserve forces, the most important countermeasures are a solid C4I infrastructure and robust passive defenses.
\nPassive defenses include deception, hardening and dispersal of military assets as well as redundancy (of air base runways, for example).
\nAn effective civil defense, including educating the public about personal risk in a time of war and protective measures, will help prevent panic and the collapse of morale. A vigorous campaign to build up the national will to defend Taiwan's freedom and sovereignty is vital and urgently needed.
\nA PLA blitzkrieg may precipitate a strategic paralysis of Taiwan. But this does not necessarily mean capitulation. If properly prepared, Taiwan could recover from the initial attacks and persevere until help arrives.
\nAs the PLA gains confidence that it can bring about Taiwan's surrender in a matter of days, the temptation to strike becomes increasingly attractive. Taipei's negligent posture toward national defense compounds this danger.
\nTo maintain the status quo Taiwan must give top priority to its national defense and demonstrate by concrete action the nation's resolve to preserve its de facto independence.
\nLi Thian-hok is a freelance writer based in Pennsylvania.
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