China's Space Programme: Mars Calling

China seems set to become only the third country to put humans into space. Space programme officials have had the end of the year as their target, although achieving it has not been a foregone conclusion. Similar unfulfilled promises were made in 1999 when Beijing wanted the manned launch to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of Communist government. Financial and technical problems pushed it back several years. What message will the first flight carry: a threat to existing powers or an opportunity for cooperation?

The World Today Published 1 November 2003 Updated 21 October 2020 4 minute READ

Michael Sheehan

Professor of International Relations, University of Aberdeen

Prestige appears to be of overwhelming importance to the development of the manned space programme. In January, President Jiang Zemin hailed the launch of the Shenzou-IV spacecraft as a ‘great victory’.

A successful manned launch would clearly distance China from the space programmes of regional rivals such as Japan and India and demonstrate decisive technological prowess. For ordinary citizens, success in space would definitively mark the nation’s coming of age and move it clearly from third world to first world status, with developed nations forced to recognise this.

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