[Overseas View]A code of conduct for spaceA month after the Chinese celebrated the Mid-Autumn Festival, or moon festival, China successfully launched its first moon-probing satellite on Oct. 24. This is another major effort by Beijing, an emerging global power, to join the space club.
China shot its first Earth-orbiting satellite in 1970, despite the chaos during its Cultural Revolution.
Even though the country was far less developed technologically at that time, its planned economy system still wielded enough strength to make strategic decisions efficiently and to invest its resources effectively.
The West’s containment of China also forced the country to develop its own independent defense and strategic capabilities. India, in contrast, is heavily dependent on advanced Soviet defense technology.
Twenty-four years after initiating China’s age of reform, Beijing’s space program has ushered in a new phase: In 2003, Beijing shot its first “Chinanaut” ― a Chinese astronaut ― into space.
Earlier this year, China made a satellite experiment that generated quite a bit of controversy; this time it launched a lunar orbiter.
The government also appears to be preparing to send a landing probe soon. Within a decade, another Chinanaut may step onto the moon.
This lunar probe cannot compete with the space power status quo. The United States sent the Apollo 11 spacecraft for the first landing by humans on the moon in 1969. China has just sent an instrument that can orbit the moon.
China will lag behind America in manned moon landings by about half a century, even if Beijing is lucky enough to be able to do so in the next 10 years. The gap is significant.
China is also in an Asian race to probe the moon. A few weeks ago, Japan launched its Kaguya spacecraft to the moon after a four-year delay. China’s launch of Chang’e 1, the lunar orbiter, will now press India to hurry up.
The three rising Asian powers will get stronger with their rising space capability. Clearly, Japan and China are ahead in the race. China sent an independent astronaut first, but Japan sent a moon orbiter six weeks ahead of China, with more advanced probing equipment.
Their moon missions have put pressure on India and possibly America. NASA has announced it will also launch a lunar orbiter next year and return to the moon in 10 years. India is rapidly catching up. It used a Soviet rocket to send its first satellite into space in 1975, and succeeded using its own rocket to do so in 1980. This April, India launched its first commercial satellite with an Italian payload. In 2008, it will launch its first moon orbiter with two NASA devices.
What is the implication of these launchings? Apparently all these experiments are for scientific purposes: Japan will map the moon’s surface while China will map an even more complete version and carry out analysis of more than 10 chemical elements of the moon. India’s payload will enable NASA to scout the location of the next American manned landing on the moon surface.
But given the U.S. lead in space warfare, these Asian civilian space programs could be developed as a hedge against a space military hegemon or hegemons. India has published its Space Vision 2020, a report that requires the Indian armed forces to carry out 1,000 research projects to develop its space capability in intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, detection, communication and navigation. For this purpose, the Indian Air Force started last year to prepare for a space command. Though the viability of such an ambitious plan is widely doubted, New Delhi must feel the impetus to race in both civilian and military programs.
Therefore, international regulation of peaceful uses of space is more relevant today. The logic has to be that space shall not be used for non-peaceful purposes. However, because the current economy and defense are highly related to space technology, the country that commands space will have a huge say in the future of peace and development ― peace in terms of space deterrence and development in terms of communication and new energy.
Consequently, humanity is caught in a dilemma.
A rush for space achievements and national pride is leading a civilian space race in Asia, though much later than Armstrong and Aldrin’s landing on the moon.
That is America’s positive result in civilian space technology. However, one has reason to be wary of Washington’s negative lead: if the U.S. government doesn’t stop its military space program, the U.S. could exert a counterproductive impact on international space development and trigger a space race in a non-productive direction.
Space science has been in existence for a century, but the technology is relatively new. But due to globalization, the world is accumulating more wealth. The exchange of civilian technology has all but cut the threshold for embarking on the course of moon orbiting.
The Asian moon race is not the end, but just the start to a new chapter which calls for early efforts to craft a code of conduct for civilized use of space.
*The writer is an international relations professor and deputy director of Fudan University’s Center for American Studies.
by Shen Dingli