China has become the third nation to put a man into space. The Washington Post’s John Pomfret wrote that China’s first manned space launch would “mark a great step for China” in its quest to be recognized as a great power. The New York Times’ John Yardley quoted top Chinese officials as saying the mission would show China to be a world power equal to the United States.
The media coverage made only passing reference to the Chinese military’s control of the space program. In the last paragraph of his story, Pomfret cited U.S. Defense Department officials on the military significance of the launch. But the Times’ Yardley labeled those who worry about China’s exploitation of space for military purposes as “skeptics.” He quoted “other analysts” who declared that this mission has “little, if any, military application.” These “other analysts” told him that the mission would conduct a few scientific experiments and “is carrying seeds for agricultural tests.”
The Asia Times, based in Hong Kong, quoted one Chinese space official as saying, “China’s space technology has been created by China itself.” Officials claimed that everything aboard the space-launch vehicle has been made in China. But Charles R. Smith, writing for Newsmax.com, reminds us “China has had assistance from America in its reach for the stars.” In fact, he writes, China’s space efforts have relied heavily on U.S. technology, much of it obtained during the Clinton administration.
He says that U.S.-made software and computers have been used by Chinese engineers to improve the military’s ballistic missile force. China’s space mission control facility is also “packed with U.S.-made computers supplied during the Clinton years.” Smith also cited other U.S. missile technologies obtained during that period, including guidance systems and satellite control facilities. Smith recently revealed that President Clinton had personally approved the sale of radiation-hardened chip technology to China. That technology is invaluable for command and control during nuclear warfare. Smith was one of the few to note that missiles used in the space program are interchangeable with China’s strategic nuclear missile force.
China has big plans for its space program. It hopes to put its own space station into orbit before 2008. The Post’s Pomfret writes that China also wants to “ring the globe with high-precision satellites” and explore the moon for potential energy resources. But Smith warned of the military implications of these plans. The space station, he writes, is designed to be a military reconnaissance platform, which would provide the Chinese military with “better ground resolutions.”
Some observers also criticized the Chinese government for wasting resources on a space program. Harry Wu cited the large amount of hard currency China holds, generated in part by U.S.-China trade, and said that the money should be spent on health and education for the Chinese people. He thinks the manned mission “is not for the Chinese people,” but intended to make China “the world’s Communist superpower.”