Marc Julienne, head of the center for Asian studies at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI), published on January 20 a research on “China’s space ambitions”. He answers our questions with Isabelle Sourbès-Verger, research director at the CNRS, specialist in the geography of circum-terrestrial space and spatial policies.
China is now a major, autonomous space power. But isn’t it first and foremost a military space power?
Marc Julienne: Most of the space powers, including China, are primarily military powers because their programs often originate in the armed forces and their applications are dual-use. China is seeking to consolidate its military capabilities. For this, it created, at the end of 2015, within the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the Strategic Support Force placed under the direct command of the Central Military Commission (CMC) of the Communist Party. It has a space systems department, which oversees most of the resources: launch sites, control of satellites and space surveillance stations in China and abroad. The space station program, for example, is headed by a general of the CMC. In the organization and management of space programs, the presence of the military is increasing.
The Chinese program is two-sided: one includes scientific research and international cooperation, presented by the national space agency; the other, hidden, includes secret military programs and the management of space systems by the military.
Isabelle Sourbès-Verger: The notion of “military space” in China is complicated to establish, because all space activity, under strong state control, must satisfy very varied national interests beyond the military. Military satellites, used by the PLA for telecommunications, observation or early warning, are less numerous than civilian satellites. Satellites, in this huge growing country, are used above all for land use planning, infrastructure development, planning and monitoring of urban expansion, telecommunications services, television broadcasting and broadcasting. ‘Internet.
The fact that all launches are operated by the military, which also supplies the body of the taikonauts, does not say much about the priorities of space policy. On the other hand, we note that the observation satellites are more and more numerous, and some are oriented towards the surveillance of Taiwan. Since 2015, the number of electronic eavesdropping (making it possible to spot potential opposing battle orders) and early warning satellites (intended to spot missile fire) has increased from six to around twenty. Space capabilities devoted to the development of armed forces are growing, while remaining far from American resources. Hence the central question of civil-military integration.
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