Sat, Nov 01, 2003 - Page 8 News List

The threat in China's space race

By Li Thian-hok李天福

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.

The 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.

According 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.

China 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.

Over 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.

China 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."

Many 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.

So why not give priority to economic development, respect human rights and generally improve its people's quality of life?

The 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.

China 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.

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