Chinese moon landing is first step to military muscle in space | Eurasia Diary - ednews.net

18 March, Monday


Chinese moon landing is first step to military muscle in space

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The Chinese moon landing shows the emerging superpower is a growing threat to Britain and the world, say military experts and  British government sources.

The China National Space Administration on Thursday confirmed  touchdown on the dark side of the moon – the first time any nation has achieved the feat – and transmitted the first close-range image from its surface.

Such a landing is tricky because one side of the moon always points towards Earth making it impossible to communicate directly from the "dark" half. The Chinese needed to launch a separate satellite to relay signals back to mission control.

While Beijing claimed the landing "opened a new chapter in human lunar exploration", British government sources and experts warned the achievement placed China in a strong position to establish the first manned lunar base and a dominant military position in space.

The Chinese space program is under the supervision of its national defence ministry and it plans to begin construction of a manned space station next year.

"China is a worry and some might say it is a bigger threat than Russia," said a British government source. "There is certainly an intelligence threat from the Chinese. They are very clever and very good at acquiring information that doesn't belong to them. They do have very long-term plans and you never know what their aims are."

Defence experts warned there was a current legal "free for all" in space with nothing to prevent countries jamming GPS satellites, launching cyber attacks, or using lasers to destroy space assets.

China has already demonstrated its ability to shoot satellites out of the sky and in 2013 used a missile to destroy a spacecraft 35,000km up, a height once viewed as unreachable.

Nigel Inkster, the former director of operations and intelligence at MI6, now at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said: "I don't think China has made any secret of its space ambitions and certainly there is a military element to that.

"China is acutely aware that the US have designs on space military capabilities and is looking to make sure it can match or outmatch them and develop a military force to be a credible threat. It sends a signal that they now have greater capabilities and I think Donald Trump will certainly use it to insist on a new Space Force."

China is only the third nation, after the US and Russia, to make a soft landing on another world and although the Chang'e 4 spacecraft will primarily explore the history of the lunar surface and the solar system, it will also attempt to grow potatoes, hunt for mineral deposits and explore new communications links.

"China is not just doing this for the science," said Dr Malcolm Davis, an expert in Chinese military and space at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. "China's space program is military run and everything they do has either a direct military benefit, or a long-term indirect strategic benefit," he said.

Professor Rana Mitter, an expert in the history and politics of modern China at Oxford University added: "A great deal of technological development in China is linked to research done by branches of the military, therefore military applications of space technology will certainly be under consideration by Beijing."

China conducted its first crewed space mission in 2003, only the third country to do so after Russia and the US. It has put a pair of space stations into orbit and plans to launch a Mars rover in the mid-2020s.

Shortly after becoming China's president in 2013, Xi Jingping said "the space dream" would make the country stronger.

Today, a report from the Henry Jackson Society warned that China could overtake Britain next year as the world's second biggest power behind the US, following huge investment in research and development and the rapid expansion of its defence budget becoming "a serious challenge to the West".

Last month, Gavin Williamson, Britain's  Defence Secretary, announced he was ring-fencing £160 million ($288 million) to develop ways of tackling future threats, including cyber and space warfare.

The latest achievement also makes it more likely that the Chinese will put humans back on the moon before the US.

Professor Lord Martin Rees, Britain's Astronomer Royal, said: "The Chinese have a lot of catching-up to do before they can match the record of the US or European programmes.

"But, with their technical virtuosity and dirigiste government they could, if they wished, take the lead in developing a lunar base."

 

The Telegraph, London

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