Publié le 17/06/2021

Marc JULIENNE, cité par John Feng pour Newsweek.

China's far-reaching ambition for a permanent presence in outer space began in earnest on Thursday with the launch of its first crew bound for a new space station.

It signals a great leap forward for the country's burgeoning space program, which took its first step beyond Earth's atmosphere when it launched the satellite Dongfanghong 1, or China 1 in the West, in April 1970.

Fast-forward half a century, the People's Republic of China finds itself among the world's history-making space powers.

Accordingly, it has already articulated plans for prolonged missions in low Earth orbit, then on the moon and Mars.


Concerns have also been raised about the lack of transparency beyond its stated ambitions, and the likelihood of space exploration being linked to efforts to modernize its military by 2049.

Ye Peijian, the chief designer of China's lunar program, is most often cited when wary analysts describe the country's darker motives.

In a 2019 interview with China's state broadcaster CCTV, he likened Beijing's space dream to its pursuits of territorial claims over the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands and the Philippine-claimed Scarborough Shoal—known by the Chinese government as the islands Diaoyu and Huangyan, respectively.

Ye said: "The universe is an ocean, the moon is Diaoyu Island, [and] Mars is Huangyan Island. If we don't go now when we can, then future generations will blame us. If others go, they will take over, and you won't be able to go even if you wanted to. This is reason enough."

Current comparisons show China's space program is still a distance away from U.S. technical and innovative standards. America also has a far greater budget, but that may not last forever.

In a January paper for the French Institute of International Relations, researcher Marc Julienne concluded that China's space ambitions were built on the pillars of national development, military empowerment and great-power competition.

"Besides building national pride and international prestige, space is a strategic field where Beijing needs to fill the technological gap with the US, and where it is searching for US vulnerabilities," he wrote.


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