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China’s White Paper on Space : 2016

Sanjay Kumar writes: The White Paper states that all countries in the world have equal rights to peacefully explore, develop and utilize outer space and celestial bodies. The outer space activities should be beneficial to country’s economic development and social progress, and to the peace, security, survival and development of mankind.

On December 27, 2016, China published a White Paper titled “China’s Space Activities in 2016”.[1]The white paper was issued by the State Council Information Office. This is the fourth white paper highlighting issues concerning China’s activities in the Space. Earlier, such papers were issued in 2000, 2006 and 2011. Like the previous versions, this White Paper also first highlights the most important achievements and breakthroughs realised by the national programme during the previous five years, subsequently enunciates the plans and priorities for the next five years, policy measures for future development and finally China’s international cooperation and exchange programs.

The White Paper states that all countries in the world have equal rights to peacefully explore, develop and utilize outer space and celestial bodies. The outer space activities should be beneficial to country’s economic development and social progress, and to the peace, security, survival and development of mankind.

As per the White Paper, China’s top priorities include developing three new launch vehicles including a rapid-response launch system and alleviating its contribution to space debris. China stressed on its principle of exploration and utilization of outer space for peaceful purposes, social progress and national security. Chinese government takes the space industry as an important part of its overall development strategy, and has made great achievements since its space industry was established in 1956. According to the White Paper, in the next five years, China will continue to enhance the basic capacities of its space industry, and strengthen research into key and cutting-edge technologies.

Since 2011, China has seen smooth implementation of major projects, including manned spaceflight, lunar exploration, the BeiDou Navigation System and high-resolution earth observation system. It successfully developed new Long March carrier rocket series of LM 5, LM 6, LM 7 and LM 11. The new launchers use modular systems with various common components   which can be easily combined into new rocket variants for various tailor-made missions. The launch preparation time is also considerably improved adding flexibility and strategic depth to Chinese space program.

The LM 5 has payload capacity of 25 tons to Low Earth Orbit and 14 tons to Geostationary Transfer Orbit. LM 11 is designed as a quick-reaction launch vehicle that, being solid-fueled, can be stored for long periods and be launched at short notice. It is also expected to reduce costs of launches and is designed for approximately 1000kg category payloads into LEO. This capability boosts its resilience against initial attacks on its space assets and also provides on demand launch capability to meet any emergent requirement.

China’s high resolution Earth Observation program has been fully implemented; the Gaofen-2 provides sub-metre optical remote-sensing observation, the Gaofen-3 has a Synthetic Aperture Radar accurate to one metre and Gaofen-4 is China’s first geosynchronous high-resolution earth observation satellite. China has also boosted its communication and broadcasting network including Tianlian-1 data relay satellite system. BeiDou Satellite Navigation System has already placed 23 satellites in orbit and is providing Positioning-Navigation and Timing (PNT) services in the Asia Pacific region. Its global navigational program comprising of 35 satellites is on track and is likely to be operational by 2020. BeiDou System will also play significant role in China’s Belt and Road initiative by providing basic services to the participating nations. It has also plan to extend services to 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

China in the recent past has mastered major space technologies like manned space transportation, space walk, robotic arm usage, spacecraft rendezvous and docking, close proximity manoeuvres and robust ground mission support system. China is steadily progressing towards its ambition of operationalising its Space Station by 2020. Towards its deep space exploration program, China is working on its lunar exploration project comprising of orbiting, landing and sample return mission. It is also working on mankind’s first soft landing on the far side of the moon by 2018 and mission to Mars by 2020.

In the White Paper China underpins its commitment to peaceful use of outer space and opposes any kind of weaponisation of outer space. However, it is silent on its various anti-satellite tests (ASAT). Its SC–19 tests in 2010, 2013, and 2014 intercepted a mock warhead launched by a ballistic missile rather than a satellite. Although China has called these tests ‘‘land-based missile interception tests,’’[2] available evidence suggests they were indeed antisatellite tests. Again, in May 2013, China fired its new DN–2 rocket into nearly Geosynchronous Earth Orbit ascending to around 30,000 kilometers. The nature of the test indicates China is developing an antisatellite capability to target satellites in medium Earth orbit, highly elliptical Earth orbit, and geosynchronous Earth orbit.[3] On October 30, 2015 China conducted yet another test of a new anti-satellite missile Dong Neng-3 from the Korla Missile Test Complex in western China. Its Aolong-1 (The Roaming Dragon) launched in June 2016 also raises concern about China’s intentions as its robotic arm can pluck any satellite out of orbit. The silence over these issues raises concern over real intentions of the Dragon.

China has also increased its international engagements in space and has signed 43 agreements with 29 countries. China is using its space prowess as an effective foreign policy tool and has engagements with Russia, Brazil, France, Belgium, Italy, Britain, Germany and Netherland. Among the developing countries it has commercial and geopolitical engagements with Srilanka, Pakistan, Nigeria, Venezuela, Bolivia, Laos, Democratic Republic of Congo and Nicaragua in the field of telecommunications, mobile communications and TV broadcasts. It is using its space capabilities to increase its influence in the region. China remains silent over its commercial gains out of these ventures and in the White Paper also it does not talk of Space Budget and other revenues generated out of its various space programs.

In all, the White Paper reflects a sense of pride China takes in showcasing its developments in Space, sets tone for ambitious future programs and manifestation of an emerging global power. The world is closely watching Dragons every step in the Space and challenge for China would be to emerge as a respectable Space Power with serious involvement towards mitigation of weaponisation of Space.



[2] Xinhua (English edition), ‘‘China Carries out Land-Based Mid-Course Missile Interception Test,’’ January 28, 2013; Xinhua (English edition), ‘‘China Conducts Test on Ground-Based Midcourse Missile Interception,’’ January 11, 2010.

[3] Craig Murray, ‘‘China Missile Launch May Have Tested Part of a New Antisatellite Capability,’’ U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, May 22, 2013.

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