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  • Outer space is a key part of the China dream.

  • The conquest of the cosmos has really

  • been considered one of Russia's crown jewels.

  • Beijing also sees space as a crucial aspect of its aim

  • to become the world's number one technological great power.

  • So this is about prestige meeting hard power, right?

  • China is moving into space in a big way.

  • The president, Xi Jinping, has said that outer space is

  • a key part of the China dream.

  • Beijing also sees space as a crucial aspect of its aim

  • to become the world's number one technological great power

  • by 2049 with an intimidating military.

  • But when you delve into what this space programme actually

  • involves it becomes even more fascinating.

  • Not only has China made the only Moon landing in the past 40

  • years, it has also landed on the dark side of the Moon.

  • And in addition, it has a huge telescope listening out

  • for aliens somewhere in the ether

  • and a network of surveillance satellites ringing the Earth.

  • Ever since the Soviet Union launched Yuri Gagarin

  • into space in April 1961, beating the Americans

  • into orbit at the height of the Cold war,

  • the conquest of the cosmos has really

  • been considered one of Russia's crown jewels.

  • But right now Russia is arguably the leading space power.

  • It's launched more manned space flights

  • than other countries combined.

  • But the country's space programme is looking outdated

  • and lacking the financial muscle of global rivals.

  • Now it looks like China and Russia,

  • having often been rivals, are joining hands to realise

  • their respective space ambitions.

  • So Henry, what does it look like from Moscow?

  • Just in March, Russia and China signed a deal to jointly build

  • a base on the Moon and orbiting the Moon in a really

  • extraordinary announcement that really shows that Russia sees

  • its future of its space programme with the Chinese.

  • Now the wider context here is, of course,

  • this blooming Russia-China friendship

  • built on the relationship between Vladimir Putin and Xi

  • Jinping and driven, really, since 2014,

  • since western sanctions were imposed against Moscow

  • after the annexation of Crimea.

  • That pushed Russia, if you like, to turn eastwards

  • for friendship, for trade and investment,

  • and for collaboration.

  • Now, space is a great area for that.

  • Russia could do with partners in space with financial backing.

  • China could do with people who have

  • the expertise and the historical basis on which to build.

  • So this deal is only an MoU, but it

  • does signal that Russia very much sees

  • China as its future partner.

  • For the last two decades it's been partnered with the US.

  • They built the International Space Station together.

  • For the last 10 years American astronauts

  • have been getting to that station on Russian rockets.

  • But the Russians are now saying that they

  • want to build the lunar station with the Chinese

  • and not with the Americans, who have a rival project

  • to do the same thing.

  • So the Soviet Union's space programme was built out

  • of an idea of national pride.

  • Is the Chinese programme the same?

  • Well, the pride aspect of this is obviously very important.

  • If China can make scientific breakthroughs from research

  • conducted at its lunar base, or similarly,

  • through a Chinese probe called Tianwen-1

  • that's due to land on Mars in May or June,

  • then of course that will play really well back in China.

  • Similarly, the kudos that would follow

  • any discovery of signs of extraterrestrial life

  • would be enormous.

  • China's listening in to outer space

  • with the help of a 500-metre telescope that started hunting

  • last September for what it calls candidate ET signals.

  • But this is also about hard power as well.

  • China has a network of communications satellites

  • ringing the Earth which are vital for maintaining both

  • the internet and its surveillance of what's

  • happening on the Earth.

  • And as part of this broader satellite system,

  • Beijing is also pushing for the development of missiles

  • and electronic weapons that can target satellites

  • in low and high orbits, according to some of the latest

  • research from the US Pentagon.

  • But Henry, what about Russia?

  • Is it also prioritising the militarisation of space?

  • Well, it depends if you believe their words or their deeds.

  • In words, the Russians say that the exploration and use

  • of outer space is for peaceful purposes and the interests

  • of all mankind.

  • They've actually attacked the US for what

  • they say are efforts to militarise space.

  • But indeed, the Russians definitely

  • understand that the geopolitical benefits here are massive.

  • If China and Russia can establish themselves

  • as the pre-eminent space powers of this century,

  • then Beijing and Moscow basically then take the lead

  • in writing the rules of the road for satellites

  • and the looming weaponisation of space as an arena of warfare.

  • In 2007 China really fired the starting gun on that

  • by using a satellite killing missile.

  • And the US has accused the Russians of designing

  • their own space weapons.

  • There's a laser weapon that they have

  • here on Earth that can apparently be

  • used to take down satellites.

  • And last July, Washington said that they've

  • been tracking a Russian satellite that

  • fired a projectile out across outer space.

  • Moscow says it was an inspection device.

  • NASA said that it could have taken down another satellite.

  • So this is about prestige meeting hard power.

  • This is about who dominates the planet's orbit.

  • And with so much new technology, as you

  • said, relying on satellites for communications,

  • for surveillance, it's a really big prize

  • for Moscow and Beijing if they can establish themselves

  • as the dominant power.

  • So we saw how Russia and the US worked together

  • in space for more than two decades

  • and now seem to be drifting apart.

  • Why should the Russian-Chinese relationship be more durable?

  • China and Russia, and of course its predecessor, the Soviet

  • Union, do have a bit of a history of making

  • alliances and then falling out.

  • They were communist allies in the 1960s,

  • but then they fell out so acrimoniously

  • that they ended up fighting a border war in 1969.

  • Of course, these are different times now.

  • And the two have growing trade relations,

  • and there are pipelines sending oil and gas from Russia

  • to China.

  • Diplomatically, they both regard each other

  • as a bulwark against the influence of the west.

  • So this is clearly a relationship

  • that has some depth.

  • But there is a feeling that this could change, particularly,

  • for example, if China was to catch up

  • with Russia technologically in space

  • or if other issues started to emerge in their relationship.

  • I totally agree.

  • I think 10 years ago, you would say, why would Russia

  • need the Chinese to do this?

  • In 10 years' time, as Beijing's expertise in space experience

  • swells, people there may be saying,

  • why do we still need the Russians?

  • We could do this ourselves.

  • I think it also remains to be seen how this co-operation will

  • work in practise.

  • It's one thing to sign a document

  • on planet Earth agreeing to build a space

  • station on the Moon.

  • It's another thing altogether to get it up there.

Outer space is a key part of the China dream.

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China, Russia and the new space race | FT

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    joey joey posted on 2021/05/16
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