One Small Step for Zhai Zhigang, One Large Step for China

Now that we’ve all gotten our fill of mooncakes in celebration of the Autumn Moon Festival, three very lucky Chinese Colonels are getting a little closer to the moon.  The three Colonels, Zhai Zhigang, Jing Haipeng, and Liu Boming, all fighter pilots of the PRC military, blasted off from Jiuquan spaceport in the northwest of China on Shenzhou VII yesterday.  It was the first time that the Chinese have sent a person into space since 2003.

For the last couple of years, the Chinese space program has done something extraordinary in the month following the Moon Festival (this might just be coincidence).  Last year, they practiced shooting a missile down.

While Russian and American enthusiasm for space exploration has cooled a bit in the last several years, Chinese enthusiasm is just getting off the ground.  Not only is there great general interest and great pride in the program, the Chinese are also willing to foot the bill even when they don’t know the numbers.  Because the Chinese space program is part of its military spending, the exact amounts spent on its space program are unknown.

In response to the successful mission, many American reporters asked the questions: will this spark another cold war, and should the United States be worried?

To the first question I would ask, with whom?  The Chinese are developing a space program.  Today, they achieved a space walk.  A space walk in itself is a big deal; however, let’s put this in perspective before Americans start getting scared.  Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in 1969.  I am not saying that the Chinese do not have the manpower and the resources to catch up quickly, but I am wondering with whom the space race would be.  The United States is so embroiled in its own financial crisis to even give space exploration a second thought right now.  The current economy just does not want to pay for another multi-million dollar rocket.  Russia remembers the collapse of the USSR too strongly to want to foot the bill for that race again.  Who’s going to race the Chinese into space?  Japan?  Germany?

To the second question, I refer you back to my answer to the first question.  The United States should recognize that the Chinese military power and technology is gaining on American technology.  Should we be scared? Perhaps its naivety, but I don’t see what there is to worry about.  Were we planning on fighting the Chinese?  I hope not because China own’s most of the United States securities and is one of our biggest trading partners. Especially with our financial situation, we can’t go to war with one of the hands that feeds us.

So, why do people get nervous when China starts shooting its rockets into space?  I’m not sure why Americans do, but the Taiwanese are a different story.  With missiles already pointed at the tiny islands and being under threat since 1949, the PRC’s showings of might have always made the Taiwanese nervous.  Even though good relations, such as the plane from Shanghai to Taipei, have been developing since the Guomingdang came back to power, there is always a chance that the PRC’s exhibitions of military might might actually throw Taiwan-China relations back to early 2000′s status.  Now that is something to worry about.

Leave a Reply