China in the Outer Space – A Threat or a Partner?

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In modern times the definition of a super power is not only military and economic superiority or possession of nuclear weapons or being a permanent member of the UN Security Council, but is also being a space power. At present, Russia, China, Japan and the U.S. are the four major global super powers which are also considered as independent space powers.
If during the Cold War the battle for supremacy in the space was only between the USSR and the USA, today China is aggressively racing for achievements in space making a wake up call for the traditional space powers. China, a global player with an impressive economic growth places great emphasis on the development of the space industry. Development and maturity in the space program is considered as an overall development for a country. China’s prestige in strengthening its space program determines the policy makers to heavily invest in this sector.

China’s efforts to demonstrate their involvement in space  can be considered successful if we take China’s recent big successes into account. China has carried manned mission to the space, the so called taikonauts. This has put China in the small group of three elite nations (U.S, Russia and now China) that have the capability to independently launch a man mission in the space. China has launched numerous satellited in the earth’s orbit, and in 2011 China announced that in the next five years it plans to make a lunar landing.

Is China a threat in space or can we foresee a space cooperation either with the established space powers or with the emerging ones?

First of all, unlike the U.S., European countries and Russia, which have significantly reduced their investments in space exploration, China, with increasing public support continues to invest massively in the space sector. Thus, there is a possibility of a Sino-European cooperation, such as China’s possible future involvement in projects like Galileo navigational system or the International Space Station. So far, China collaborated with Russia to develop Shenzou spacecraft, with France for communication satellite payloads, and with UK for the Disaster Monitoring Constellation. It also worked with Brazil and the European Space Agency for the scientific mission “Double Star”, which explores the effect of sunlight on the environment.
Nevertheless, tensions arise as the U.S. wants to continue having a dominant role in space in the future. Moreover, European companies are blamed for providing sensitive technology to China. The U.S. has been trying to prevent such transfer of technology to China since 1999 when it started considering the exports of satellite components and software as intellectual property, subjecting to the rules of international arms trafficking.
So, can we talk about a new space race? China can be seen as a motivator for U.S. to continue their research in space exploration, than a competitor. Actually, there are chances of cooperation because the costs and risks associated with space missions are significant and it is better to be shared. China would benefit from a partnership with U.S. from the technology transfer and the United States would have access to the general budget of China.
But there’s a question arising, whether the Chinese space program development can be perceived as a military threat to the United States.
In January 2007, China launched a rocket into space in a test that destroyed one of its ageing weather satellites, scattering millions of debris in space, threatening the safety of other equipment which were then placed in orbit. Test gave rise to a strong current of criticism from the U.S. as well as from other countries, but China continued to develop its anti-satellite capabilities. Although Chinese authorities say they want to use space for peaceful purposes and are opposed arming, the space plans they announce can be perceived as threats, as most also have military implications. Beijing rarely recognized the direct military applicability of its space program and refers to all of its satellite launches as a scientific or civil.
Moreover, China can be seen as a strong economic competitor for the U.S., providing technology at lower prices. In 2005, it was estimated that more than 25 million Chinese households were receiving satellite television, though officially only one million households are estimated. It is easy to understand why western satellite operators companies see China as a strong market, while China wants in turn to take advantage and strengthen their own industry. China aims to become a provider of commercial satellites recognized internationally.
From a certain point of view, we can state that there is a space race between a number of Asian countries such as Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, India and China, which develop technologies that can enable the launch of satellites into space, but it is clear that China has the most ambitious plans.


Although the Chinese political system makes the great powers of the world (such as the United States),  reluctant in engaging in joint projects, it is still in everyone’s interest to have cooperation in space, because all the countries are highly interdependent. Sustainable use of the outer space is of greatest interest and can not be achieved by unilateral action.
We must not forget that in some respects (particularly in terms of planetary exploration or navigation in space) China is less technologically developed than the United States. However, there is no denying fact that China has the potential to become a great space power and the United States must continue to carefully monitor the actions of the Chinese state. China’s progress should not be ignored but the threat that China can represent in the future must be recognized without jeopardizing a possible of cooperation.
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Editor | The World Reporter. An economist, IT specialist and a post graduate student from Romania.
  • Anonymous

    Hmm any views about military implications of China’s space programs on India? It is scary at times that how fast China is progressing.

  • akshar

    atleast now india should realise that chinas progress is due to internernal domination in fareast and on big powers