Two Chinese astronauts spent five days in space in early October, boosting national pride and the reputation of China’s high-tech industry, but leaving experts scratching their heads about China’s military intentions.
“Most analysts agree about what China is doing in space. There’s vast differences over why they’re doing it,” said Joan Johnson-Freese, chair of the Naval War College’s National Security Decision Making Department and a top expert on China’s space program.
The problem in determining China’s intent, according to Johnson-Freese and Peking University’s Yu Tiejun, a visiting associate at the Fairbank Center for East Asian Research, is that much of the technology used in space is dual-purpose, meaning it can easily be used for either war or peace.
Information from a satellite, for example, can be used to analyze the impact of drought on agriculture or be used to target missiles. Similarly, any satellite that is maneuverable, regardless of its day-to-day purpose, is a potential anti-satellite weapon because it can be crashed into another satellite.
One thing clear from the recent missions is that China is in space to stay.
“Clearly, this has established China as a long-term player in space,” Johnson-Freese said. “Their prior launch was not a one-time stunt.”