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2011: A space odyssey fit for two (2)

(China Daily)

13:25, October 26, 2011

The European media, as far as I know, simply reported the event as well as its related plan without further comment. I cannot help wondering what this deafening silence means, especially considering the unsuccessful cooperation on the Galileo project. Galileo is a global navigation satellite system being built by the European Union and the European Space Agency. In 2003 China joined the project and invested 230 million euros in the following years, but quit in 2006.

What on earth are the real obstacles that prevent Europe and China from extending their cooperation into space?

To be frank, I think the main reason for Europe's hesitation is suspicion from the US. It has been wide awake to any high-tech progress by China and keeps on sounding alarm bells about the potential military threat from such progress. But those alarm bells have a hollow ring, because what Euro-US military experts say on the matter is untrue; China is not and will not be a military opponent of the US or a potential threat to Europe. Any military component to be found in the space program is defensive in nature. What China seeks is something from which the whole world benefits.

The second reason for Europe's hesitation may have at its root prejudice against China. Europe always seems to doubt that China gained much more from the earlier cooperation, and China's financial support for the project is ascribed to ulterior motives. Since the joint plan was abandoned, China has run space projects independently and has made significant new strides, while European countries continue to bicker with one another and lack financial support.

Many will recall similar, previous problems. Before the Cox Report of 1999, the work of a US government committee, China opened its space launching market services to clients including companies in the US, Europe and Australia and enjoyed stellar success. But the report fabricated a story about how China stole technology from these commercial contracts, and Western countries ceased cooperating with China.

But just as the failure of the Galileo project led to China's independent satellite navigation project Beidou (Compass), after the Cox Report, China made up its mind to start a new development and investment plan of space technology, and Tiangong-1 and other well-known achievements are just some of the results.

Following the launch of Tiangong-1, more is in store. Three Shenzhou missions will be launched later and are expected to dock with Tiangong-1, expanding the laboratory into a space station of 22 tons. More exciting and serious space exploration plans are on the drawing board.

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