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2011: A space odyssey fit for two (3)

(China Daily)

13:25, October 26, 2011

If European countries can provide their advanced technology to formulate a framework of joint space projects it will be easier for both to make progress. In addition, Europe and the rest of the world will get to know more about China's plans.

Another reason for the lack of cooperation between China and Europe is politics. The moving sands of politics in Europe have brought an ebb and flow in the development of China-EU relations

In the first half of the last decade, leaders in France and Germany inclined to build a multi-polar world. They opposed President George Bush's war against Iraq, and pursued and pushed for dialogue with China and Russia. This fostered a friendlier atmosphere. It was in this period that China and the EU signed the agreement on cooperation in the Galileo project.

But things soon changed. After right-wing leaders gained power, policymakers across Europe made it clear after the invasion of Iraq that they wanted to mend fences with the US. Hence cooperation between China and the EU in the space sector was driven into a blind alley.

From the Galileo case we can see that US influence is an important external factor of China-EU relations. The US kept saying Chinese missiles relying on the Galileo project would sink US warships - and some US military experts even advocated shooting down Galileo satellites if necessary - while the EU said time and again that the system would be restricted to civilian use.

European officials and space professionals were well aware of the economic factor behind the US opposition (the US monopoly of the global positioning satellites system) but they bit their tongues out of deference to US-EU cooperation in international politics and economics. Europe politely let the extending hands of China go and saw the perfect opportunity of cooperation turn into a meaningless dispute.

Looking to the future of modern science and technology in space, it is obvious that there is fierce international competition. The Cold War boosted the development of the industry but also left a dark legacy: a way of thinking that interprets the development of normal space technology as military confrontation.

On the one hand, with the rapid development of military technology worldwide, space-based platforms and devices are a key to a country's superior military power. On the other hand, political leaders and ordinary people everywhere, fearing what weapons of mass destruction can do, all agree that the development of space technology should be limited to civilian use. There is no doubt that an arms race in space or offensive weapons deployed on the so-called high frontier will be destructive to all. This consensus and other lessons drawn from the Cold War are the basis of further cooperation in space.

The EU and China also have an opportunity to transform themselves from competitors into partners.

Space development lays down a path to the future; it is an investment for industry and for prosperity. Europe and China are important trading partners, and instead of wasting money on pointless plans they could easily join hands on that path to the future. China's successful recent launch represents progress not only for the country's space technology, but also provides an opportunity and sends a signal to Europe and others: We can work together on similar projects.

The author is deputy director of Shanghai Peace Institute. The opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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