October 16, 2003: China's Great Leap Upward: Post Launch Assessment and Implications for the United States

On October 16, 2003, the Freeman Chair hosted a panel assessing China's first manned space mission. The panel consisted of Dean Cheng, senior research analyst with the CNA Corporation, Bates Gill, CSIS Freeman Chair in China Studies, and John M. Logsdon, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University.

Dean Cheng gave a technical overview of the Chinese space program, including an assessment of the program itself. He made the point that the launch in and of itself would not have a major impact on China's military-related space programs in the near term. Cheng pointed out the differences between the Chinese space capsule and the Russian Soyuz and discussed the likely directions of China's space program for the future.

Bates Gill addressed the political and social ramifications of the launch, underscoring the importance of prestige and national pride as a driver behind this program. He noted Jiang Zemin's glaring absence at pre- and post-launch ceremonies and speculated on what that means for Jiang's influence at the upper reaches of Chinese politics. China's successful launch could mean further political and financial capital being invested to boost the resources available to its space program which will have a longer-term positive impact on China's growing military-related aerospace programs. He also noted that the launch will have greater repercussions in China's regional neighbors and aspiring space powers, India and Japan, than it will on the United States and Russia.

John Logsdon examined the meaning of the launch for the United States and for international space cooperation programs more generally. He highlighted that while the United States is still far ahead in its space capabilities overall, it is still notable that China has undertaken this program and appears to have long-term plans to build up its capabilities in space over time. It appears that China is pursuing a self-reliant capability over the mid term rather than be dependent on outsiders for gaining access to the benefits of space exploration.

September 29, 2003 Chinese Space Program: Sun Tzu or Apollo Redux?

On September 29, 2003, the Freeman Chair hosted Dr. Joan Johnson-Freese, chair of the Department of National Security Studies at the Naval War College. She gave a presentation on China's upcoming manned space launch which examines the motivations behind China's "Great Leap Upward" and the implications of China's attempted manned launch for the United States. Best-guesses have set the Chinese launch of their first into orbit on or around October 15, 2003, which will make China the third country in the world to have a manned space capability, joining the elite club of just the United States and Russia.

The presentation was moderated by Derek Mitchell, senior fellow in the CSIS International Security Program. He highlighted China's close observation of the evolving high levels of military technology used by the United States in its wars starting from the Gulf War, Kosovo, and Afghanistan, and including the war in Iraq today.

Dr. Johnson-Freese pointed out that China's motivation behind its space program is multifaceted. The Chinese, she underscores, want to reap what the Apollo Space Program did for the United States: international prestige, technological advancement with "spin-on" effects for military-technical development, increased employment in the space-related industries, and national pride that would boost government legitimacy. During the presentation, Dr Johnson-Freese addressed a number of other issues including the cost of China's space program, the possibility of a successful Chinese launch, and the U.S. reaction.

"This is not 'Sputnik II' or the advent of a new 'space race.' Nevertheless, being the first developing-world country to put a man in space gives China some bragging rights and brings it a step closer to its claims to be accepted as a 'Great Power.' Instead, in the near-term, this will resonate most in China and will give a big boost to national pride and the Communist Party's hopes for legitimacy. Over the longer term, if Beijing's commitment to a robust space program continues to grow, China's strategic missile modernization will steadily realize increasing technological benefits."—Bates Gill, quoted in "More than pride at stake as China prepares first manned space flight," Financial Times, Oct 14, 2003