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China’s space program began in the 1950s as part of its nuclear weapons program. Today it spans both civilian and military requirements, as well as bolstering national prestige: China is only the third country, after the United States and Russia, to operate an independent manned space program. The country’s ambition may see a Chinese astronaut landing on Mars. In the defensive realm, China is developing a counterspace capability to thwart a future adversary from using their space-based assets against China in time of conflict. While publicly opposed to an arms race developing in space–and China’s space white paper strongly backs the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs–it recognizes the risks of this occurring. By developing its own space-based capabilities while at the same time renouncing the weaponization of space, China can be: (a) militarily credible, in that it has a program in play to counter any emergent hegemonic practices in space; and (b) diplomatically persuasive insofar as it would like to join the international community in keeping space as a weapons-free zone. The continuity in China’s unified, comprehensive effort in space research and development strengthens China’s credentials as a global power with a distinctive space policy.
This document has been peer reviewed.