Saturday, October 18, 2003

China in Space: Well, they did it, and they get my congratulations for it, but the BBC is right to ask what benefits accrue to China as a result of a manned space programme. The Beeb also points out that China has just:

'invested about $200m in the Galilleo satellite navigation system which is planned as an alternative to the United States' Global Positioning System.'

In addition to being useful for working out where airliners/ships etc are, GPS has a military function, which is to guide smart bombs and fighter jets to their targets. The Europeans (especially the French) have long been uncomfortable with their reliance on the US for this important function and hence the decision to go ahead with the Galilleo project. There's not much that Uncle Sam can do to stop the Europeans from acquiring their own satellite navigation system but I suspect that military planners in Washington are more than a little perturbed at the prospect of China acquiring such a capability too. And from America's erstwhile NATO allies to boot.

Meanwhile the Economist has a story chronicling the origins and potential future of the Chinese space programme. The most interesting sentence in the article, however, is the final one:

'Already, questions are being asked about why a developing country such as China needs international aid when it is financing a $2 billion human space programme.'

China receives considerable foreign development aid each year from, in particular, Japan. So one way of looking at the launch this week is to say that the Japanese have paid for their old rivals the Chinese to put a man into space, something which, although good for national pride, is of dubious economic value. It remains to be seen what comes of this...

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