Author: Hu Weijia
Posted on: Global Times, May 2nd, 2017
Much attention has been focused on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s space diplomacy ahead of the launch of the South Asia satellite, but the stalled space cooperation plan between China and India also deserves attention.
The satellite, described by Modi as «an invaluable gift» for India’s neighbors, will enable a full range of services and applications in areas such as telecommunications for almost all of the South Asian countries, and thus will help India to strengthen its ties with those countries. The effort that the Modi administration has made in providing satellite services to South Asian countries is worth praising, but China should not be excluded from New Delhi’s recent moves toward strengthening space cooperation with India’s neighbors.
In 2012, former Indian president APJ Abdul Kalam said during a visit to the State-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation that Sino-Indian space cooperation was in the interests of both sides, according to the company’s official website. However, apart from setting up the joint commission on space cooperation in 2015, the two countries have yet to make any other significant achievements.
A lack of strategic mutual trust is one of the most intractable challenges China and India face as they promote cooperation in the space sector. The two countries’ rapid development in space technology isn’t conducive to strengthening cooperation, and instead has led to increased competition.
The Internet has made Sino-Indian space competition a controversial topic, with netizens in each country quick to talk up any moment when one side or the other makes a big step forward. This has resulted in a negative atmosphere in which the two countries have found it difficult to make progress on space cooperation.
Besides, space and missile technology to some extent are two sides of the same coin. For instance, spacecraft control technologies can be applied to guidance systems for ballistic missiles. Although India’s overall strength in space technology still lags behind China’s, the South Asian country has an advantage in some other areas. It is understandable that New Delhi may have no enthusiasm to promote space cooperation projects, given that it hopes to keep a competitive edge in the game.
As for business cooperation between the two countries’ space industries, the rise of trade protectionism and segregative government procurement systems remain daunting challenges. Further opening up of the two countries’ space industries is worth consideration because normal bilateral cooperation could help the two nations make breakthroughs in space technology. Additionally, Beijing and New Delhi could take advantage of multilateral platforms to boost cooperation.