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China’s military, diplomatic and economic power cannot be ignored by any country including the super power, America. In its latest Pentagon report, the US expressed its concern on China’s “non-transparent” increased spending on defence. In power relations there is no zero sum game. If one power rises, the other power declines. This is a reality.
America‘s power extends to land, oceans and space. It does not want to see a challenger of its present supreme status. It has earmarked more than US$600 billion for its military budget this year.
Against the above background, China’s progress in space technology has worried America. In January 2010, China conducted an anti-satellite test and destroyed one of its own satellites in space by firing a missile. This has been a concern for US because China has now acquired capability to destroy US spy satellites in space. Later, China came out with a statement that its capability to destroy its own satellite did not threaten any country.
China is yet to catch up with the established space powers, the United States and Russia. The Shenzhou 9 marked China’s fourth manned space mission since 2003, and comes as budget restraints and shifting priorities have held back U.S. manned space launches.
China’s Space manned mission:
On last 29th ,June, China’s Shenzhou 9 spacecraft returned to Earth and touched down in China’s north-western Inner Mongolia region with its three-member crew, including female astronaut Liu Yang, ending a mission that put the country’s first woman in space and completed a manned docking test critical to its goal of building a space station by 2020.
For the first time, China has transferred astronauts between two orbiting craft, a milestone in an effort to acquire the technological and logistical skills to run a full space station that can house people for long periods.
Beijing has hailed the nearly two-week mission as a technical breakthrough for the country’s growing space programme. The launch, landing and docking exercises with the experimental Tiangong 1 space lab module were broadcast live on state television and met with an outpouring of national pride.
Moments after the capsule landed with a thud in the barren pasture lands, ground crew rushed to open the hatch. The official Xinhua news agency reported the astronauts as saying: “We have returned, and we feel good.”
An hour later, mission commander Jing Haipeng smiled and waved as he emerged from the capsule in his white space suit. Fellow astronauts Liu Wang and Liu Yang followed to loud applause.
The three astronauts were whisked to one side, seated in chairs and interviewed by state media.”We are proud of the motherland,” Liu Yang said.
Speaking in Beijing, Premier Wen Jiabao congratulated the crew and welcomed them home. “Tiangong 1 and Shenzhou 9, in the task of manned rendezvous and docking, have achieved complete success. This is another outstanding contribution by the Chinese people to humanity’s efforts to explore and use space.” Wen said.
Tiangong 1 is due to retire in a few years with a permanent space station around 2020 that will be smaller than the US Skylab of the 1970s and about one sixth the size of the 16-nation
China says it has spent about $6 billion on its manned space programme since 1992. Beijing plans an unmanned moon landing and deployment of a moon rover and its scientists have raised the possibility of sending a man to the moon, but not before 2020.
China’s new role for developing countries:
China is also jostling with neighbours Japan and India for a bigger presence in space, but its plans have faced international wariness. Beijing says its aims are peaceful.
China has assumed a new role and is now acting as a space benefactor to the developing world. The latest and most prominent example came in the third week of May when China has launched a communication satellite for Nigeria. When Nigerian satellite was launched it was televised live. Other countries watched it. This is a great triumph for China’s soft power, winning hearts and minds of people in developing countries.
The important fact is that China also has provided to Nigeria loan to help pay the bill and will also train Nigerian engineers to operate a tracking system station in the country.
This is a win-win for both Nigeria and China. Nigeria may be oil-rich but it lacks many of the basic building blocks of a modern, information-based economy. Nigeria’s prestige has gone up among African states because it projects power and modern technology. China on the other hand can get oil from Nigeria.
In recent years, China has managed to get customers with less expensive satellite launching services and has now proven the technology to compete for international contracts. China meanwhile has reportedly signed contract with another oil-rich country, Venezuela.
With the satellite priced at roughly at US$300 million, the state-owned Export and Import Bank of China grants loan to developing countries for launching satellites. It seems to be an attractive proposition for many middle-income countries.
Ms. Johnson -Freese, chairwoman of the Department of National Security Studies at the US Naval War, reportedly has said that China wants to play a leadership role for developing countries that want to get into space.
For China the strategy is a blend of self-interest, soft power diplomacy and commercial proposition. Satellites have becomes status symbol and technological necessity for many developing countries because speed and increased productivity are the hallmarks of globalisation.
One has to appreciate that a gradual seismic shift in power relations is taking place and China in the last 30 years has changed faster than any nation in history.
The United States will not test a new rocket to take people into space until 2017 and Russia has said manned missions are no longer a priority.
NASA has begun investing in U.S. firms to provide commercial spaceflight services and is spending about $3 billion a year on a new rocket and capsule to send astronauts to the moon, asteroids and eventually to Mars.
Barrister Harun ur Rashid, Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.
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