News / Science & Technology

    Analysts Say China Poised to Become Leader in Space

    Multimedia

    Audio

    More than four decades ago, the United States won the race to the Moon with the Soviet Union.  But today, experts say changes to the U.S. policy could open the door for new leaders in space.

    Astronauts on board the U.S. space shuttle Discovery returned to Earth this week amid major changes for America's space program.

    President Barack Obama is calling on private companies, not the national space agency NASA, to carry astronauts into orbit.  His plan also ends a government program to return to the Moon.

    "Now, I understand that some believe that we should attempt a [manned] return to the surface of the Moon first, as previously planned," said Mr. Obama.  "But I just have to say pretty bluntly here:  We've been there before."

    But, other countries have not. Critics of Mr. Obama's plan say not returning to the Moon could jeopardize America's leadership in space exploration.

    "So what happens when China is able to do that, and worse, what happens when the United States may not be able to for quite a while?," said Dean Cheng, an expert on Chinese political and security affairs at The Heritage Foundation here in Washington.

    "There isn't a direct threat at work here.  People aren't talking about setting up Moon bases and throwing rocks at Earth, for example," he said. "But what it is, is it's a matter of national morale, national psyche, and a statement about where each country is on the technological development side."

    Chaina's emerging role

    China became a member of an elite club when astronaut Yang Liwei flew into space in 2003.  Four years later, Beijing surprised many around the world when it successfully shot down a satellite.  China plans to send a robotic rover to the lunar surface in 2012.  And next year, the country is launching a small space lab to practice docking in orbit - an essential part of manned missions to the Moon and beyond.

    Joan Johnson-Freese of the U.S. Naval War College in Rhode Island says that even without a manned Moon mission, the U.S. still will be the biggest player in space.  

    "The United States spends $16 billion or more annually on human space flight.  It spends over $20 billion just on unclassified military space programs. China spends about $2 billion annually," said Johnson-Freese.

    But she says Beijing's space program has launched China into a new geo-political level. "China is only the third country to have human space flight capabilities [after the United States and Russia].  That inherently projects the image of it being the regional technology leader," said Johnson-Freese.

    Historian Jeffery Wassertstrom at the University of California, Irvine, says China is trying to reclaim the powerful status it held hundreds of years ago. "China, after having been one of the world's strongest and most developed countries, went through a period of relative decline and relatively being pushed around by other countries." he said.

    Money, alliances

    Beijing's space program also serves more practical interests like raising cash and making alliances. China has sold satellites to Venezuela and Nigeria, and plans to build a $300 million satellite for Bolivia.

    "So it's no accident that Venezuela and Nigeria, of course, both have oil.  And Bolivia, interestingly, is one of the world's largest sources of lithium, which if you think we're all going to drive electric cars, is going to be a vital source," said Analyst Dean Cheng of The Heritage Foundation.

    Deals like these are public, but most of China's space program is not. Cheng says that secrecy makes some U.S. officials nervous. "Much of the [Chinese] space infrastructure, for example, is managed by the People's Liberation Army," he said. "So there's a military component there.  Also, in the post-Cold War conflicts the U.S. has been involved in, no enemy has ever had space capabilities."

    Cheng says that could change as Beijing sells space technology to more countries.

    Analysts say a lack of trust between Beijing and Washington has limited cooperation in space.  But analyst Joan Johnson-Freese of the Naval War College says there are national security reasons to rethink that policy. "We would have a much better idea of what the Chinese are doing - how much technology they have and how much they have access to," she said.

    But even if Washington offers to work with Beijing, Johnson-Freese says China might not accept the invitation.  She says like the United States in the 1960s, China's space program is as much about prestige on Earth as it is about exploration in space.

    You May Like

    Hope Remains for Rio Olympic Games

    Facing a host of problems, Rio prepares for holding the games but experts say some risks, like Zika, may not be as grave as initially thought

    Diplomats Hope to Revive Cradle of Civilization After Defeat of IS

    Diplomats from around globe gather at US State Department, discuss how to rebuild minority communities shattered by Islamic State group

    ‘Time Is Now’ to Save Africa’s Animals From Poachers, Activist Says

    During Zimbabwe visit, African Wildlife Foundation President Kaddu Sebunya says poaching hurts Africa as slave trade once did

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolatei
    X
    July 29, 2016 4:02 PM
    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100% Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolate

    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100% Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Tesla Opens Battery-Producing Gigafactory

    Two years after starting to produce electric cars, U.S. car maker Tesla Motors has opened the first part of its huge battery manufacturing plant, which will eventually cover more than a square kilometer. Situated close to Reno, Nevada, the so-called Gigafactory will eventually produce more lithium-ion batteries than were made worldwide in 2013. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Polio-affected Afghan Student Fulfilling Her Dreams in America

    Afghanistan is one of only two countries in the world where children still get infected by polio. The other is Pakistan. Mahbooba Akhtarzada who is from Afghanistan, was disabled by polio, but has managed to overcome the obstacles caused by this crippling disease. VOA's Zheela Nasari caught up with Akhtarzada and brings us this report narrated by Bronwyn Benito.
    Video

    Video Hillary Clinton Promises to Build a 'Better Tomorrow'

    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton urged voters Thursday not to give in to the politics of fear. She vowed to unite the country and move it forward if elected in November. Clinton formally accepted the Democratic Party's nomination at its national convention in Philadelphia. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more.
    Video

    Video Trump Tones Down Praise for Russia

    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is toning down his compliments for Russia and Vladimir Putin as such rhetoric got him in trouble recently. After calling on Russia to find 30.000 missing emails from rival Hillary Clinton, Trump told reporters he doesn't know Putin and never called him a great leader, just one who's better than President Barack Obama. Putin has welcomed Trump's overtures, but, as Zlatica Hoke reports, ordinary Russians say they are not putting much faith in Trump.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora