China’s Ulterior Motive in Fencing off outer Space Poses Threat

China is accelerating efforts for its military-led space program. It needs to refrain from actions that threaten other countries and increase transparency in its activities in order not to undermine the momentum in establishing international norms for outer space.

A Chinese probe vehicle has successfully collected soil from the moon. This makes China the third country to have done so following the United States and the former Soviet Union. Beijing said it has retrieved samples useful for the future development of lunar resources. It also aims to build a lunar base in 2030.

China’s progression is not limited to the moon. This year, the Chinese Communist Party marks the 100th anniversary of its founding, and the country plans to conduct a Mars exploration, following that of the United States, and build its own space station around 2022. It is also planning a manned probe to Mars as well as a Jupiter mission.

Regarding the purpose of its space program, China has stressed that it is intended to contribute to the peaceful use of outer space. However, such words cannot be taken on trust.

China’s national defense law, which was revised last month, stipulates that outer space is an important security area, regarding it as a domain to defend on par with the defense of territories and territorial waters. This has raised suspicion that China is trying to fence off outer space to further national interests and secure resources.

Outer space is the common property of humanity. It is not a space where those who arrive first can secure sovereignty and claim the right to do as they wish. China should bear this in mind.

One problem with China’s space program is that the real picture of it is opaque because it is two sides of the same coin as the military’s weapons development.

Modern military technology relies heavily on satellites for purposes such as operations and chain of command communications. China has increased its efforts to develop so-called killer satellites designed to destroy or disable the satellites of other countries. Beijing apparently has an ulterior motive of rapidly overturning its military inferiority to the United States by taking the lead in developing weapons in space.

An arms race between the United States and China in outer space could pose a threat to the entire Earth. It is important for the international community to work together and form common public opinions for the establishment of rules concerning the peaceful use of outer space.

The Outer Space Treaty, which bans nations from claiming sovereignty over outer space and celestial bodies and using them for military purposes, was enacted in 1967, but it has limited effectiveness.

Last month, the United Nations adopted a resolution primarily calling for the application of international law to space activities, with support from 164 countries including Japan and Britain. Last autumn, eight countries, including Japan, the United States and Britain, agreed on basic principles for lunar exploration, which include calls for the peaceful use of outer space and ensuring transparency in space policy.

If China stresses the use of outer space for peaceful purposes, it should try to dispel the concerns of other countries by actively participating in such efforts.

International norms that correspond to the rapid progress in technological development today must be established. Japan is urged to play a leading role in creating such norms while proceeding with its own activities for the peaceful use of outer space.