October 14, 2005

China & space

Here's something that combines my interest in East Asian geopolitics with my much more recent interest in space exploration (I know, I know, very unlike me but I can't help it!)

China launches second manned space mission

Especially this sentence is interesting:
Beijing has attached great importance to its space programme, viewing it as a source of national pride and international prestige.
It confirms what Ian Buruma said in a discussion night on Wednesday evening. As part of the Amsterdam China Festival Buruma and Jan van der Putten (ex-Volkskrant correspondent) discussed the rise of China and what its effects would be in the world, and specifically in relation to the United States. Or so the announcement claimed. Instead the lectures focused mostly on internal issues. Interesting, but not quite what I was expecting.

In any case, one of the major points that Buruma made is that maintaining (political) legitimacy is increasingly important for the Chinese state. One of the most important ways to accomplish this is by sustaining economic growth and realizing the promise of an increasingly wealthy China.

Other ways of maintaining this legitimacy is by emphasizing various national issues. These can be of political nature (think hostility against Taiwan, territorial conflicts with Japan) but also of a very different nature: sports, for example. The Beijing Olympics could have a big effect on increasing national awareness of the Chinese population.* Space exploration is obviously something that is hugely appealing to the imagination of the general public. And with which China could easily ‘score’ in gaining national pride and international prestige as mentioned above.

* Slightly off-topic, I recently heard that some critics are questioning the ability of Beijing to host the Olympics in 2008 due to the severe air pollution. Has anyone else heard this? I haven’t specifically looked for it yet. Apparently the story is that the air in Beijing is so polluted that it would be physically impossible for athletes to run a marathon for example.


bonny said...

Beijing is so polluted that it would be physically impossible for athletes to run a marathon for example.
--then, how did the athelets prcatice marathon in China?:)Yeah, it's polluted definitely, but you will never feel breatheless in Beijing.

machiruda said...

Yeah, it kind of sounds too incredible to be true. How could a city be so polluted as to make it instantly life threatening? But hey, this was what the tv was saying last week. Don't know where they get their information from, or if the situation has changed since they filmed that particular documentary.

bonny said...

The weather there is not fine, that's true, sandstroms occur once or twice a year. But the journalists can't make a definition of anything just by taking a glimp of the chip of so-called documentary. Almost everyone in China takes it as an honour to get the chance to hold this worldwide sportsgame and let the world get to know the real China. Even the taxi drivers in Beijing are squeezing their time to learn English to get prepared for the Olympic Games. I can't imagine how disappointed they would be when they hear such ridiculous things.:(

Jules said...

Re: the pollution in Beijing - quite simple for the Govt to solve: shut down the factories in advance of the Olympics and allow the air to clear. This is done quite often in Chinese cities for big events.

For eg, the recent Asia Pacific Mayors Conference in Chongqing held last week, they shut down the factories the week leading up to the Conference, in the hope that the pollution would be less. Admittedly, the photos I saw of Chongqing and the reports from people I know who were at the conference all indicate that this strategy didn't work.

I have heard, however, that the recent space launch has come under a lot of criticism in China, for the cost of the program and where the money could have been better spent (eg, raising living standards in western China).

bonny said...

As to the pollution, shutting down the factories for a short while will not work definitely. But shutting all these plants down for ever is also not possible, how can the government arrange the fired crews who used to work there? Govt is trying to move the factories to the suburb in Beijing, but it also takes time.

Space launch...I should say predicatively there must be some people with negative oppinions, how can all the people always agree on one thing? Espacially in a country with 1,300,000,000 heads.

All these problems and disputes arise is just because China is such a huuuuge country with too many people.

Btw, most alients in Chongqing think the air is highly polluted just because it is always foggy. Pollution is part of the reason, but the most should attribute to its geographical location. It's in the mountains, acctually the city itself is a mountain. When you are in Chongqing,you have to meet ascent and downhill path all the time.Can't it be foggy?

Anyway,as a Chinese I'm happy to see peole caring about China. Please do come and digest China by yourself, good or not is not important, one thing that can be sure that you will surely feel your trip is worthy:)

machiruda said...

Interesting comments, Jules and Bonny. Thanks!

Re: pollution - shutting down factories temporarily sounds as if it could help a bit, but not really more than that. Might be enough of course. The best way would probably be to start investing now in cleaner technologies. Maybe with that money used instead for the shuttle launch?

I can see how some people criticize the Chinese space program. In the short term it doesn't have any clear benefits. Except for that thing about international prestige. In the long run this might be different. Then again, China will need a lot more than just manned shuttles but also exploration and observation missions. I think those most clearly have a goal and advantage in the near future (eg. the CryoSat mission - which failed - last week from the European Space Agency).

Bonny, you are Chinese yourself right? What do you think about this? Not just the space program, but also the Olympics are activities that cost a load of money but do you think this is the best way to spend it? Or is the Chinese government better off spending its money to ease many of the other issues in the country?

And yes, China is pretty much on top of my list of countries to visit! Can't wait to go there and see it for myself.

bonny said...

Hmmmm, my opinion......
Ok, give you an example. You are a student in high school, you don't do well in your study. Will you put all your energy on your class stuff instead of spending some spare time on playing football or participating the school activities?
Then, I think China is just like the student, China is very poor--true! But should China put all the money to improve Chinese economy, regardless of other things?
In shuttle launch, sending two Chinese into the outer space is not their mere goal definitely, they can do some investigation and observation there. In the long run, it's worthy. We can't just consentrate on one thing letting other aspects fall behind.
Spending the money and energy reasonablely is fine for me. Our government sometimes do some stupid decisions, such as endowed Indonesia with lots of money after tsunami. I don't mean they shouldn't contribute, helping Thailland is fine, but absolutely not Indonesia.
But as to the Olympic games and space program, most Chinese are proud of it. Me too:)

And yes, China is pretty much on top of my list of countries to visit! Can't wait to go there and see it for myself.
-- glad to hear that! Leave my email here, if you want any help, just drop me a line:)

machiruda said...

Thanks for your answer, bonny. I see what you mean. It'll be interesting to see how China will work towards the Olympics and so on. I really should try to get there before!