The Yomiuri ShimbunIf the rivalry between the United States and China spreads even to outer space, the impact on Japan and other members of the international community will be immeasurable. China should attach importance to international cooperation and make efforts to dispel concern.
A Chinese unmanned lunar probe called the Chang’e-4 has successfully landed on the far side of the moon from Earth, a global first. The probe has put the Yutu-2, a lunar rover that was mounted aboard the probe, on the surface of the moon, and it is collecting data on the moon’s topography, geological structure and other features.
This latest achievement can be viewed as having demonstrated that China’s space technology is reaching a level equal to those of the United States and Russia.
Radio signals from Earth cannot reach the far side of the moon. As the moon’s far side is more rugged than the areas on the side of the moon that faces Earth, landing on the far side is extremely difficult. Having launched a satellite to relay communications to Earth last May, China has built the world’s first communications network linked with the moon’s far side.
The moon is expected to be utilized as an outpost for probing Mars and other planets and a base for securing resources, such as water and fuel, drawing attention from countries. The United States will formally decide as early as within this year on a plan to build a manned moon-orbiting space station. Japan, for its part, is studying possible cooperation with the United States.
By moving its lunar probe program ahead of other countries, China is probably aiming to boost its clout in such undertakings as the acquisition of natural resources there.
The administration under Chinese President Xi Jinping has established as one of its targets the realization of the country’s becoming a major space power. The state-led development program called “Made in China 2025” also treats space development as a priority sector, attempting to challenge U.S. superiority in that area.
China’s Beidou satellite positioning system, which rivals the U.S. global positioning system (GPS), has started worldwide services. With the system, China is undoubtedly aiming to create a system that will not depend on GPS in such military activities as locating naval vessels and aircraft, and guiding missiles.
Space technology and military technology are like two sides of the same coin. The Chinese military is seen to be taking the lead in the country’s space development, injecting a massive amount of money into this area from its military budget. It is problematic that there is hardly any information being disclosed.
To counter such developments in China, U.S. President Donald Trump has ordered the establishment of a “space force” that would control the operations of U.S. forces in outer space. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, apparently bearing both China and Russia in mind, has warned, “Foreign nations have been developing electronic weapons to jam, blind and disable satellites.”
China plans to build its own space station, not taking part in the international space station (ISS), a joint project involving countries including Japan, the United States and Russia.
The U.S. government is reportedly planning to cease its budget spending on the ISS by the end of 2024. Should its plan to turn the ISS over to the private sector result in failure, China might monopolize manned space activities that orbit Earth.
As long as it asserts the “peaceful use of outer space,” China must refrain from acts that could threaten other countries and instead enhance the transparency of its actions.