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Event Report: “China & Challenges to Security in Space”

Updated: Aug 26, 2022

C3S Event Report: 001/2022

Dr. Namrata Goswami, an Independent Senior Analyst & Scholar on Space Policy, spoke on “China & Challenges to Security in Space” at the C3S Institutional Dialogue (Virtual) hosted by Chennai Center for China Studies (C3S) on June 24, 2022. The session was chaired by Commodore R. S. Vasan (IN Retd.), Director-General of C3S. Opening remarks were presented by Commodore Vijesh Kumar Garg, VSM, Executive Director of C3S. The session was attended by distinguished members, research officers, and interns of C3S.

Executive Summary

In 2021, China issued a white paper titled “China’s Space Program: A 2021 Perspective”. The concerned paper outlined the mission of the country’s space program. It stated that Beijing’s space program is motivated to conserve the national right and interests and thereby revamp its overall strength. The presentation extensively highlighted important factors and achievements of the People’s Republic of China’s (PCR) space program. It also stressed the security implications India could face because of China’s space program.

Detailed Report    

Dr. Namrata Goswami started her presentation by stating that China’s space program is a part of their grand strategy, i.e., Comprehensive National Thinking. She then explained critical missions and drivers for China’s space goals. First, she quoted China’s white paper on the Space program to speak on the mission. Then she explained how it is different from India’s mission. Per the explanation, PCR space is integral to their national identity and economic development. Its space program is designed to compete with the US and India, as China sees New Delhi as significant space power in Asia. Then she talked about the critical drives of Beijing’s space program.

The first among those is that under President Xi Jinping, space is included in the Communist Party of China (CPC) constitution, which was amended in 2017. This is also in line to attain leadership in space, which is in line with Made in China 2025 policy. The 2025 policy highlights China’s three important technological priorities: Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotics, and Space. Since all these are interlinked, China can influence the current global order for its benefit by gaining high efficiency in these fields. The following key driver is that space forms a critical part of the legitimacy of the regime and the internal national development of CPC. For instance, China was the first Asian nation to perform a successful landing on Mars, and sending a robber helped point out the importance of the CPC to China. The third driver is Economic Development and Entrepreneurship. For China, all previously discussed fundamental driving forces fall behind economic factors. This is because Beijing believes that a country with a heights level of economic development will be able to develop a resilient army and its other influential capacity. This clear vision of the PRC differs from that of the US, as Washington’s space mission goal jiggles between the idea of achieving prestige in space exploration and the concept of attaining economic benefit. Last but not least, among other driving factors, is National Security.

Then Dr. Goswami explained more about China’s long-term space goals. One of the most prominent long-term programs in which China has invested heavily is Space-Based Solar Power (SBSP). Under this technology, PCR wants to collect solar energy in space and beam it back to earth through microwaves. They started to pour in this technology in 2010, and they have successfully demonstrated wireless power transmission but in a limited amount. They also have invested in the concepts like Lunar resources, and through such investment, they look forward to gaining technologies that can extract resources from the moon. Another long-term goal is to establish a long-term presence. Like the US talks about sending women astronauts to the moon by 2028, whereas Beijing is determined to build a research station on the moon by 2036. The speaker also pointed out that, as Chain has a one-party policy, it was able to keep committed to such a long-term plan both in terms of finance and policy. She also mentioned that to understand the more excellent prospect of China’s space mission, it is essential to analyze the documents the Chinese put forward critically. Examples of such papers are the White Paper on space published in 2006 and 2016 and the latest in 2021.

As Xi Jinping ascended to the position of President, there has been significant change concerning China’s grand strategic thinking. Dr. Goswami mentioned the first change to be the national rejuvenation and ample power. She also said about a recent speech of President Jinping to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). He argued that loyalty to the CPC is the most critical priority, and China as a state comes after that. Then she mentioned a significant change in their military doctrine. After 2013, the Chinese army doctrine said the present hegemonic power was their adversary. This is indicative of Beijing’s anti-US stand. Many experts analyze the China-Russia relationship as an opportunistic pact, whereas the speaker argues that this relation is one of the critical components of grand strategic thinking. Then she mentioned that the 2015 military doctrine, for the first time, included space as a part of the integrated network system, a Gra implication of space. The particular doctrinal change also argues that space is the platform that integrates the movement of troops, surveillance, intelligence, navigation, and much more. In China’s military-strategic guidelines, Beijing mentions it will work toward making an extended global presence across the domain and then taking the strategic initiative for global leadership into the space.

The speaker explained more about China’s Grand Strategy in Space. The first strategy is about access and use. This came into existence as Beijing learned from the scenario of the Malacca Strait. As China invests heavily on the technology front regarding space, Dr. Goswami, through her trusted sources estimates, estimates that the return on investment for PRC stands around 10 trillion USD annually. Then she mentioned document 60, which states how China is building its private space sector to compete with the private players of the US. Then she said the 2021 national defense law revised the Civil-Military Integration Strategy. As per this change, every Chinese space entity must work within the Civil-Military fusion strategy, including their private sector. Dr. Goswami mentions how US space documents differ fundamentally from China’s. US policy talks more about space exploration, whereas Chinese talk about space utilization and development. Then she also mentioned the speeches of our former President, Dr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam, while talking about Indian thinkers who had urged for the shift in the ideology of India concerning the use of space.

Then the speaker transitioned to speak more about the present change regarding achieving its space goals, which she mentioned previously. China National Space Administration (CNSA) gave an update at the International Space Development Conference held in the US last month. They pointed out that numerous launches would take place for the upcoming Long March 9 rocket (140 metric tons to LEO), which would be used to construct space-based solar power facilities 35,786 kilometers above the Earth. It further stated that a small-scale electricity generation test will be held in 2026, leading to a megawatt-level power generation facility around 2030. This was revised from what was said in 2015. Those tests will help Beijing produce commercial gigawatt-level power generation by 2050. Then Dr. Goswami talked about the Chinese interest in the moon. Unlike the US, China is looking for a permanent presence on the moon, and for that, they are looking for some strategic locations like the south pole. In this aspect, Beijing was the first country to have a successful landing at the far sight of the moon in 2019. They are using penetrating readers to look for rear metals in the moon. Then China could achieve the deadlines reading their Lunar missions, even though the cutoff dates were established in 2002. For instance, the deadline for the lunar far sight mission was set for 2019, and as evidential, it was not missed. Then Beijing is also looking into Asteroid mining, and for this, Russia and China have signed a joint venture. Then China is also building its Tiangong space station. Through this, they are looking to extend the time for which astronauts will be spending time in space. Thereby, they are also looking to bring cargo from the area. Tiangong can be rented to other space agencies. As per China’s 14th Five Year Plan (2021–25), the National Natural Science Foundation of China allocated $2.3 million for Chinese scientists to study the feasibility of the in-orbit assembly of a kilometer-wide space station. Then the White paper of 2021 mentions that the space industry is a critical element of the national strategy. Single direction and comprehensive plan; all industries contribute to the space sector. It also talks about the making of reusable and heavy-lift rockets.

As Dr. Goswami mentions, this is the one field in terms of space where the US has an advantage over China. Then the paper also says about Belt and Road Space Infrastructure. As per the speaker, this would be a direct competition with India. China could use its BRI initiative to swing traditional partners of India toward their side. Then Dr. Goswami talked about PCR’s military space capacity. First, she mentioned that China has a ground-based leaser that can blind or disable other countries’ satellites. Then it has Anti-Satellite capabilities. It is the only country that has a Quantum satellite. Then in July 2021, The Financial Times reported that Beijing had tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic glide vehicle that traveled through Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

(The Report has been prepared by Mr. Subhadip Mondal, Research Officer, C3S)

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