China and the outer space

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In October 2003, launching the first « space navigator » or Yuangyuan, represented a dramatic spatial Chinese achievement. What does this demonstration of capacity mean in a field of high technologies with a strong strategic connotation and what national and international political goals does it answer to? Independently from the media use that can be made from programs with a high symbolical value, in order to assess the reality of achievements in the field of the outer space, one must consider the characteristics of the Chinese space sector from the perspective of the reality of the sector’s integration in the development of the country, as well as the political importance it has been granted by the current Chinese leaders. A study of the Chinese spatial policy since its beginnings shows that it has not always been integrated in the different leaders’ priority political objectives, yet spatial activity, because of its own restrictions, cannot wholly coincide with the words of order as they are currently displayed. The organisation of the Chinese spatial sector does show a relative vanishing of military actors, in favour of the emergence of a growing technicisation of the officials, but for all this, the application of private management principles in spatial enterprises cannot replace the necessity of State investments, all the more important that China aims at a real technological autonomy. The Chinese spatial sector is undoubtedly changing. Its future depends both on the perception, by the political Chinese power, of the interest of its present and future strategic role and of the conditions of the country’s economic development, in order to support its financial weight. The rhythm of the spatial achievements to come may thus appear to be an interesting indicator of the regime’s fundamental orientations. – Summary AFRI-2004