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Episode 3 of C3S Interview Series on “中华人民共和国成立七十周年纪念” (70th Anniversary of the Founding of People’s

Image Courtesy: Yuko Shimizu / Popular Science 

C3S Interview 004/2019

In the run-up to the 70th anniversary of the founding of People’s Republic of China on October 1 2019, Ms. Asma Masood carried out a series of C3S interviews with scholars working and studying in China. They share their first-hand views on the Chinese landscape in light of the country’s achievements, challenges and projections for the coming decades. This interview, the third in the series, was conducted with Mr. Vithiyapathy Purushothaman, Ph.D. scholar, School of Humanities and Social Science, University of Science and Technology of China (USTC), Hefei, PRC; Former Research Officer, C3S; and Member, Young Minds of C3S. He shares insights on China’s space prowess.

Q1: In light of the upcoming 70th anniversary of the PRC’s founding this year, and the planned launch of the China Space Station core module ‘Tianhe’ (meaning ‘harmony of the heavens’) in 2020, where is the country projected to stand as a space power in subsequent years?

China aims to become space power by 2045. The four versions of Chinese space activities’ white paper are outlining the effective and stable space policies of China. Its recent space achievements are progressing in the path of its space ambitions. On December 27, 2018, China completed the construction of BeiDou-3 primary system and started providing its global service. It is expected to complete its third generation BeiDou satellites by 2020 with its back-to-back Long March Launches. Tianhe, the core cabin module (CCM) of Chinese large modular Space Station is to be launched in 2020 for building the world’s third multi-module space station. It is expected to be assembled in 2020-2022 and upon completion, will last for ten years. On January 3, 2019, Change 4 achieved the first successful soft landing on the far side of the moon, during the second phase of the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program. After setting sights on the moon, China intends to launch its ambitious Mars Mission in mid-2020 to explore the Red Planet. China also plans to launch reusable Spaceplane by 2020. Notably, the Long March rocket was successfully launched 300 times. Out of three hundred successful launches, the third wave of 100 launches took place between 2014 and March 10, 2019, with an average of 23.5 launches per year. Therefore, Long March vehicles have come a long way in the pursuit of China’s space power ambitions.CNSA is now competing with NASA for supremacy in space as seen via its thriving ambition. Taikonauts are working day and night to set the flags high in space.CNSA through its rover and manned space mission is scheduled to leave its footprints on asteroids, the moon, Mars and in deeper space missions. With all these recent achievements and planned space missions, China is marking its 70th anniversary of the founding of PRC on October 1, 2019. PRC aims to gain space supremacy which in turn would facilitate economic development and social progress of China.

Q3: How would you assess China’s cooperation with other countries that are well advanced in space technology, and those that are aspiring to join the space club?

China’s space diplomacy is reaching the countries in BeiDou coordinates. The 2016 version of China’s space activities White Paper focuses on the cooperation plan for the next five years. Accordingly, it listed the key areas for future cooperation in space and pursued them. It includes cooperation for the construction of the Belt and Road Initiative space information, cooperation for the inclusion of a space laboratory and a space station in China’s manned spaceflight program, cooperation in space technology and in deep space exploration programs, cooperation in R&D of space science satellite, remote sensing satellites, and payloads. Thus, from 2011 till 2016, China has signed 43 space cooperation agreements with 29 countries, space agencies, and international organizations.

China expanded its space cooperation with space-faring nations as well as the medium and low-income countries around the world. Notably, in May 2018 China’s opening up of the Space Station for scientific experiments has received 42 applications from organizations in 27 countries. Finally, on June 12, 2019, nine projects from 17 countries were chosen as the first batch of projects to have experimented at the Chinese Space Station.  The winning institutions are based on in spacefaring nations such as India, Russia, and Japan as well as low and middle-income countries like Kenya, Mexico and Peru. Therefore, the cooperation of different nations will work together in the space station to get science done in space. Developing countries were encouraged to submit joint applications with developed countries. Some of the notable projects such as India-Russia astronomy experiment known as Spectroscopic Investigation of Nebular Gas (SING), will map dust clouds and star-forming regions of space using ultraviolet light. Group of European institutions is studying how microgravity and radiation in space affect the mutation of DNA in human organs by using 3D biological structures that mimic the organs.

Interestingly, a Saudi Arabian team will test the solar cells’ performance, located on the exterior of the space station.  Therefore, the space station is not just for the Chinese but for people from all over the world who have been invited to join the projects. Likewise, China engages in bilateral and multilateral cooperation as well as commercial activities by building and launching commercial and remote sensing satellites of Nigeria, Bolivia, Belarus, Venezuela and Laos. Additionally, it also provides commercial small satellite launches for Argentina, Ecuador, Turkey, Poland and other countries. Remarkably, it also provides business services concerning space information. Apart from other spatial security developments of China, it aims to utilize outer space for peaceful purposes, to meet the economic, scientific and technological development that benefit social progress of mankind through joint cooperation with immediate and distant neighbours.

Q3: Please share your views on prospects for India-China space cooperation under the present leadership of both countries.

On September 18 2014, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between ISRO and CNSA, to encourage exchange and cooperation for peaceful use and exploration of outer space. Later, during the China visit of Prime Minister Modi on May 25 2015, a space cooperation outline was inked to provide specific programs for the two sides to cooperate in the period between 2015 and 2020.  Particularly, the themes of the program include space-based meteorological, lunar and deep space exploration, satellite navigation components and remote sensing missions. Beyond other political differences, India and China share a common goal of space exploration, from Mars to the far side of the moon, and from asteroids to deep space. Therefore, space offers new scope for India-China cooperation under the present leadership.

(The views expressed are the interviewee’s own.)

(Ms. Asma Masood is Research Officer & Programme Director-Internships, C3S. Email- asma.masood11@gmail.com)

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