Diplomats and representatives from foreign countries and international organizations watch videos on the Chang'e-5 lunar mission at the National Astronomical Observatories of China under the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, Jan 18, 2021. (PHOTO / XINHUA)
China’s Space Day, on April 24, betokened numerous opportunities ahead for the world in the country’s peaceful development of its burgeoning space programs.
Soon after three Chinese taikonauts, or astronauts, returned to Earth on April 16 after 183 days aboard the new Chinese space station — a new national record for duration — authorities announced a series of new launches ahead. These will include two more three-member teams being sent to the space station, which is scheduled for completion within the year and welcomes joint efforts with foreign scientists.
China’s outreach to other parts of the world was partly exhibited by Wang Yaping, the first Chinese woman to perform a spacewalk. Her recent discussion with students in the United States livened up the goodwill of China to use its space programs for the public good of humanity.
The Chinese space program’s ambition is as breathtaking as it is profound, and ably demonstrated by high-level technological achievement and capacity
Looking back at the period from November 2020 to November 2021, it can be seen that China really emerged as a serious space power worthy of the name. This was due to four major achievements over that yearlong period.
In quick succession, there were missions to the moon and Mars, the establishment of a key satellite telecommunications constellation, and the launch of a new space station. Any one of these achievements would be significant in its own right. Taken together over a mere 12-month period, they represent a momentous leap for human progress in space.
This breathtaking progress is continuing unabated as long-term plans bear fruit, others mature and still more emerge for the future. China is really living up to its dream “to explore the vast cosmos, develop the space industry and build China into a space power”, in the words of President Xi Jinping.
The Chinese space program’s ambition is as breathtaking as it is profound, and ably demonstrated by high-level technological achievement and capacity. This embodies a key national science and technology focus that has peaceful space exploration, utilization and development endeavors as a vital element of China’s presence in space.
Yet some elements in the West like to interpret China’s increasing capability and prominence in space as some kind of threat to the natural world order. Some people are promoting terms like the militarization of space and aggrandizing the idea of mankind’s space-faring activities in confrontational terms like a new space race.
At one time, even the use of the Tiangong space station’s robotic arm to maneuver a cargo vessel was couched in militaristic terms, implying its potential threat to other spacecraft. However, the two-time dangerous approach of SpaceX Starlink satellites to the Chinese space station in 2021 was largely ignored, while the deployment of Starlink satellite facilities for Ukraine to counter recent Russian attacks was hailed in the West.
For all of us, the big question remains: How do space programs promote peace and mutual endeavor for the benefit of all?
Of course, no one should want to see space militarized. This kind of talk about China is unhelpful to the peaceful cooperation and development of space.
China is turning expansion of its space program into opportunities for the world instead of any threat. With the support of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, China has made it clear that international cooperation is a cornerstone of its intent in space.
There are already nine initial science experiments from 17 countries selected to be undertaken on the Chinese space station when the science modules Wentian and Mengtian are launched this year. This is just the beginning. Astronauts from Germany and France have already trained with their Chinese colleagues, and it is only a matter of time before we see the first European working in Tiangong.
Moreover, China has been transparent in its space programs. The State Council Information Office of China published an important white paper in January, “China’s Space Program: A 2021 Perspective”, that lays out clearly China’s plans, ambitions and vision for space.
No one should have any doubt about what is coming. China has delivered on its commitments.
Judgments should be based on verifiable evidence, actions and deliverables in terms of space programs of China and any others going forward. The white paper’s statements that “China has always advocated the use of outer space for peaceful purposes” and “its space activities benefit humanity” can be put to the test.
The author is a professor on the science faculty at the University of Hong Kong and director of its Laboratory for Space Research.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.