October 26,2008

Congratulations, India!

By Shen Dingli
India has just shot a
n unmanned moon orbiter, Chandrayaan-1, into the space.  Let us send our warm congratulations to India!
This is what has been missing from various Chinese circles.  Thinking that Chinese side might expect an Indian congratulation when we sent SZ1 in 2003 or SZ7 last month, and remembering that we might not have received such a message, it is even more important that Chinese side should have issued such a congratulatory message to India.
Why congratulating India?
It is because space exploration is a great adventure of the humankind. Only few ?the US, USSR/Russia, EU, China, Japan and India can command it.  As far as the lunar exploration is concerned, China, Japan and India are the three latest who all launched their first such vehicle this year, one after another, with Japan slightly leading in terms of date of first launch.
Asian civilization used to lead the world in the human history.  Those started by Chinese, Indian and Babylon/Mesopotamia people had way ahead of the rest of the world till recent centuries when they were over taken by the west.  Subsequent, China and India became colonized or semi-colonized that further hindered their attainment of national aspiration.
Therefore, with respective independence and de-colonization, China and India have all the reason to be mutually sympathetic and supportive. Beijing and New Delhi shall congratulate each other officially on their respective success of space program.  They have a lot to respect each other: China’s more independent program, and India’s good cost-effectiveness.
Although China is still a newcomer in space exploration, it is viewed as enjoying some lead compared with India.  Though India has missed various opportunities to congratulate Beijing when China shot SZ1 to SZ7, China shall not miss the opportunity to congratulate India’s maiden voyage into the space.
It is clear that there is an Asian race to orbiting the moon, but a peaceful race of the space exploration harms no one.  Race exists everywhere.  The former Soviet Union and the United States raced to "conquer" the space in the early time, but there is nothing wrong as they helped to understand planetary mysteries.  Similarly, these Japanese, Chinese and Indian space shootings are all for peaceful purposes.  We ought to support such race for peaceful missions.
Although there is an obviously long distance ?four decades somehow ?between China and the US in space endeavor, China is moving fast to catch up with the America.  There is no need to worry about a peaceful race for peaceful end.  In Asia, our neighbors in the west and south could only inspire us to
Similarly, Asian states race for not only scientific achievements, but also national pride and excellence.  While each of them shall be proud of their extraordinary performance, they do care the inter-state competition ?not rivalry.  This is healthy and more than natural.  International peaceful competition motivates member states of the international community to attain even higher ground of the space.
It is also true that the civilian space technology could be diverted to non-peaceful purposes.  However, by no means this shall prevent any of the aforementioned countries from developing civilian technologies.  Instead, these countries need to engage with each other to develop partnership in space exploration, and to build trust and to dispel unwarranted mutual suspicion.
At the same time, the world community needs to work on an international space regime through which weaponization of space is barred.  The US has been investing in space militarization for years, upsetting the rest of the world, especially in tilting the international strategic balance.  This adds the importance of Asian space explorers to address the crucial issues of peaceful use of the space.
Therefore, Japan, China and India can engage in another kind of race ?a race of initiating and leading a talk amongst themselves on assuring a space code of conduct.  Given there status as one permanent member of the UN Security Council and the two other bidding for such prominent seats, they share an responsibility in pursuing this together.
Again, our warm congratulations on incredible India!  Given New Delhi’s scientific merits attained from a colonial low base, India deserves our commending.  But to fully deserve a part of global leadership, India has a lot to do to assure its independent and responsible foreign policy and defense behavior.
(Shen Dingli is a professor of international relations of Fudan University. He is the Director of Center for American Studies, and Executive Dean of Institute of International Studies at Fudan. He holds a Ph.D. in physics.)
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