The Conundrum of China’s Fast Development of Space TechnologyPosted: November 20, 2016
We have news that two Chinese astronauts safely returned to earth after one-month stay at China’s space laboratory Tiangong-2.
Reuters says in its report on the event titled “China’s Shenzhou 11 manned space capsule returns to Earth” on Nov. 18, “The two astronauts, Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong, spent 30 days aboard the Tiangong 2 space laboratory, or ‘Heavenly Palace 2’, which China is using to carry out experiments ahead of a longer-range plan to have a permanent manned space station around 2022.”
China has the ambition to establish itself as a space power as President Xi Jinping has called for the country to do so. Reuters says, “China will launch a ‘core module’ for its first space station some time around 2018, a senior official said in April, part of a plan for a permanent manned space station in service around 2022.”
In its report “Touchdown for Chinese astronauts after record space mission”, SCMP says that Australia-based space analyst Morris Jones was surprised by China’s progress on hardware. According to him the main challenge was to ensure the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft was able to function for more than a month in orbit.
According to Morris Jones, Shenzhou-11 was subject to the hazards of space in the month it remained docked with Tiangong-2 for the astronauts to use it to travel back to earth.
SCMP quotes him as saying,“Temperature shifts. Micrometeoroid bombardments. Mechanical wear. Small differences in performance that don’t have major effects with equipment on earth can have major effects on spacecraft.”
For a space station, China needs to have a spacecraft to stay docked with the station for a long time for transport of astronauts; therefore, the safety of the spacecraft is essential. China has made progress in that respect by enabling Shenzhou-11 to stay for one month in Tiangong-2.
It is interesting that in 2007, China wanted to participate in the International Space Station (ISS) but was rejected by the US for fear that China may learn space technology from the US through the participation.
In order to further prevent China from learning from US space technology, in April 2011, the 112th United States Congress banned NASA from engaging in bilateral agreements and coordination with China. Public Law 112-55, SEC. 539 says:
None of the funds made available by this Act may be used for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) or the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to develop, design, plan, promulgate, implement, or execute a bilateral policy, program, order, or contract of any kind to participate, collaborate, or coordinate bilaterally in any way with China.
— Public Law 112-55, SEC. 539
When the US rejects China’s participation in ISS and adopted the law to prevent China from learning space technology from the US, it believes that China will thus be kept lagging decades behind the US in space technology. Now, only a decade after the adoption of the legislation to contain China in space, China will soon have its own space station while the ISS will soon retire, leaving the US without access to space station as it lacks fund to build a new one.
For the US, China’s fast development of space strategy is now a conundrum, something undesirable and unthinkable and something unbelievable but Americans have to believe to be true.
In fact, it’s a conundrum only to those who do not know Chinese culture. There is a well-known Chinese saying:
Scholar Can Be Killed But Not Insulted
Here “scholar” means Shi (士in Chinese). Shi is a Chinese word standing for not only scholars but also wise self-educated workers and peasants, talented military commanders, kung fu masters, chivalrous swordsmen, etc. It is translated as scholars because scholars are the major part of shi and there is no equivalent term in English. Scholars may sometimes keep a low profile, but even kings do not dare to insult them. Why? Because you do not know what a shi is able to do in revenge. Therefore, it is better for a sovereign to kill him instead of insulting him.
There were quite a few stories of scholars’ sensational revenges including the whipping of a king’s copse and the assassination of an emperor.
Wang Xiaomo’s Revenge in Making World Best AEW&C Planes
China had been developing early warning aircraft since early 1960s without much success. By 1990s, China’s top radar scientist Wang Xiaomo finally managed to make an early warning aircraft for China, but its performance was so poor that China refused to produce any of its copies. Instead, China decided to import some from abroad. However, in the 1990s only the US and Israel were able to build early warning aircraft, but neither of them was willing to export them.
Due to Shanghai people’s kindness in helping Jews imprisoned in Japanese concentration camp during World War II, Israel entered into a contract to sell China four early warning aircrafts as a special favor, but was forced to cancel the contract under US pressure.
Wang Xiaomo felt greatly humiliated. He had been looked down by the US and regarded as being entirely unable to make a usable early warning aircraft. Previously he had perhaps lost confidence in his ability to make such an aircraft and decided to rely on Israel, but US insult stimulated him and caused him to work hard with the determination to make a good early warning aircraft to retaliate US insult.
Before Israeli cancel of the sales contract, Chinese government allocated almost all its funds for the import of early warning aircrafts and is not willing to provide Wang with much fund. Since the cancellation, China had no alternative but to develop its homegrown early warning aircrafts as such aircrafts are indispensable for the modernization of Chinese military. Wang was provided with abundant fund.
In addition, previous disappointment at Wang’s failure was turned into respect and dependence as Wang was China’s best radar scientist who China had to rely on to satisfy its urgent needs for early warning aircrafts.
Wang’s hard work and dedication finally paid. In November 2003, he succeeded in developing China’s KJ-2000 early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft much better than the Israeli one China intended but failed to import. KJ-2000 began operational service in 2006 after extensive flight and radar testing. Some experts were of the opinion that KJ-2000 was more advanced than US E3C as it was the first to use phase resonance radar.
Wang later developed KJ-500 regarded as one of the best AEW&C aircrafts in the world and thus satisfactorily completed his retaliation at US insult.
Scholars Revenge at US Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ Insult
In 2009, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates looked down on China and said that China was unable to have a stealth warplane before 2020.
China’s aircraft designers and engineers took the insult seriously and worked hard to make China’s stealth warplanes. Due to the talents given play by the insult, they successfully conducted maiden flight of China’s J-20 stealth fighter jet in January 2011 when Gates was visiting China. The timing of the test was obviously their retaliation at Gates’ insult.
Now they have conducted lots of tests of the prototypes, series produced J-20s and showed off two J-20s on November 1 at Zhuhai Airshow. They will certainly make their J-20 successful to complete their retaliation.
The US finds comfort in alleging that Wang Xiaomo has got secret help from Israel and China has stolen US technology through hacking in building its stealth fighter jet. What can the US find to comfort itself about China’s quick catching up with the US in space technology?
Has NASA ever been hacked or lost secret to China due to espionage? No news about that. It was US insult that has played a terrific role in helping China catch up with the US in technology.
China is catching up with the US quickly, but do you not find that it has caught up especially fast in the areas where Chinese scholars have been insulted by the US.
If American officials had known that well-known Chinese saying, they would not have stimulated Chinese scholars with the insults and enabled them to achieve technological progress much faster contrary to US desire.
Comments by Chan Kai Yee on Reuters’ and SCMP’s reports, full text of which can respectively found at http://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-space-idUSKBN13D0K4 and http://www.scmp.com/news/china/policies-politics/article/2047229/two-chinese-astronauts-safely-back-earth-after-nations