No More Foreign Aid To China

Economist.com | China’s space programme
I’m surprised to find out that China receives any foreign aid at all. Thankfully it comes from Japan and not the U.S. It seems to me that Japan could use that $1.8 billion at home given its poor economic shape these days.

If China can afford to throw away money on a manned space program, they don’t need foreign aid of any kind.

“THE East is Red”, went the old Maoist anthem. Yes, but the West is expert, was always the cutting comeback. Now the inventor of gunpowder and the rocket in earlier times has staked a claim to more modern technological prowess.

The success of the Shenzhou 5 launch, carrying China’s very own astronaut, is no small feat, especially for a developing country. China’s Communist Party bosses will, no doubt, bask in the outpouring of national pride at home, and the envy of other would-be space cadets. After all, China is only the third country to put a man in space, after Russia and America, and the poorest one at that. As a nationalist boost that is fair enough, but it does carry one awkward implication. It is that China should no longer be sent the $1.8 billion or so it is getting in foreign aid each year (much of it from Japan). It may still be a poor, if fast-growing, economy but if it chooses to spend its money on space travel there can be no good reason for outsiders to subsidise that choice.

China has long had a commercial and military space programme that has already launched more than 70 satellites. This first manned space shot will, China hopes, also advertise the reliability of its commercial satellite-launch services (after a string of embarrassing failures in the 1990s); strengthen its claim to a seat at any future space-negotiation top table; reinforce its influence in Asia; and through such heavenly exploits, put China firmly on the terrestrial great-power map.

Nevertheless, putting a man in orbit remains a rather wasteful sort of publicity stunt. No one knows how wasteful, for China is even more secretive than others both about its space budget and about the bigger military budget of which it is part. China is not alone in burning up money on unneeded space ventures—think of the original Russian space station, or America’s (still grounded) space shuttle. But those two countries at least wasted their own money. China, which makes sure its otherwise opaque statistics always support its claim to neediness, is trading in space on the generosity of others. And it does not intend to stop at a single demonstration shot (which may, outsiders guess, have cost a total of $2 billion): more costly efforts are planned, including eventually a moon landing and even a space station of its own.

Given that China’s space program is intertwined with its military budget that seems like all the more reason to not subsidize it.

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