Beijing’s reaction shows that far from sulking over India’s prowess in space, as many Western voices had insinuated, when the Indian Mars Mission was launched last November, the Chinese government has come up with a magnanimous approach.
The statement by the Chinese foreign office spokesperson Hua Chunying leaves nothing to the imagination for those projecting an Asian space race between China and India.
“We congratulate India on the Mars satellite entering orbit successfully. This is the pride of India and the pride of Asia, and is a landmark in the progress of humankind’s exploration of outer space, so we congratulate India on that,” Hua said. She also added that China would be ready to cooperate with other countries for “peaceful development of outer space.”
Beijing’s reaction was welcomed by the Indian establishment particularly at a time when the Indian media, the government and the people at large had a different opinion of China over the border incursions in the Indian states of Jammu and Kashmir.
The mature reaction from China assumes all the more importance because the talk of an India-China space race is no longer justified.
Such an argument would mean that India was feeling down in the dumps when China launched its first human spaceflight in 2003, something which India has not done yet, as it plans its first manned mission to space within the next couple of years.
China continues to be way ahead of India in space technology. After its first human space flight, China showed its prowess by launching its first Moon mission in 2007. This did not go unnoticed in India.
Officially, both countries have debunked the talk of a space rivalry, though the Western media continues to harp on about it. Presuming a space race is on between India and China, even the most jingoistic Indians would acknowledge that China is outscoring the competition.
After all, Chinese rockets can lift four times more weight than India’s. This is no mean achievement.
Consider the following facts.
There are only ten countries in the world that have successfully launched a satellite into orbit. Six of these are Asian: China, India, Iran, Israel, Japan and North Korea. China’s first manned spacecraft entered orbit in October 2003 making it the first Asian nation to send a human into space.
In January 2007, China became the first Asian power to demonstrate its capability of exploiting military applications of space technology when it sent an anti-satellite missile into orbit to destroy one of its own weather satellites in polar orbit, the aging Feng Yun 1C.
The Chinese accomplishments do not end there. China’s Chang’e 2 explorer became the first object to reach the Sun-Earth Langrangian point in August 2011. On December 13, 2012, Chang’e 2 flew by asteroid 4179 Toutatis successfully, becoming the first probe to orbit the moon, orbit the Lissajous orbit at Sun-Earth Langrangian point and fly by an asteroid at the closest distance of 3.2 km.
The welcoming Chinese reaction to India’s Mars Mission could have been dismissed as bland diplomatic talk, “full of sound and fury signifying nothing” (to borrow a Shakespearean phrase), but for a clever clause inserted by the Chinese foreign office spokesperson.
Hua Chunying, while making this statement, also said that China would be ready to cooperate with other countries for “peaceful development of outer space.”
This is a clear signal to all friendly foreign powers to collaborate with China and partake of its immense experience in space exploration. India too has been a spacefaring nation for decades and has many accomplishments to its credit.
Given that the stated objective of both China and India in exploring space is for peaceful purposes, and for the betterment of mankind, an India-China synergy in space will be a win-win situation not only for the two sides but also for the entire human race.
On the flip side, however, the talk of Sino-Indian synergy in space, or any other area, may well prove to be nothing beyond diplomatic courtesies, given the deep-seated mutual distrust between India and China. Will the two Asian giants bury their distrustful past and embrace each other for any meaningful bilateral cooperation in a crucial sector like space where they are viewed more as rivals than allies?