Russia and China’s Moon Race with America

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The space race has been on for decades. Although different countries have different objectives. Russia has repeatedly stated that space is no place for an arms race, but the US is striving hard for military space dominance, involving more and more of its allies in this military race.

As US publication SpaceNews reminds everyone, it was the Pentagon that “has declared space is a warfighting domain,” and “generals and executives in the space industry are preparing to defend the ultimate high ground.”

British Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston adds fuel to the fire once again, following a hint from Washington with yet another fake campaign about the alleged danger from Russia and China in space. And under the cover of this information campaign, the opening of the Space Command headquarters at the Royal Air Force Base in High Wycombe, near London, is taking place, where the British military will work with the US to make plans for the militarization of space.

In June 2020, the Pentagon drafted a doctrine on the use of weapons in space under the pretext of an alleged “significant threat” from Russia and China. At the same time, the proposal of Moscow and Beijing to prepare an international treaty on the non-deployment of weapons in space was declared “bad” in the United States.

Meanwhile, in contrast to the United States, Russia and China are making other plans – for a peaceful joint lunar base called the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS). This project has been another example of the rapid development of Russian-Chinese cooperation and a direct challenge to the US lunar exploration program. “More than 60 years ago, brave people began exploring the Moon,” the Russian-Chinese video message reads, adding that “this time we demonstrate even greater courage, determination, and more ambitious goals.” This project of Russia and China to send their astronauts to the Moon in the next decade is strikingly ambitious. It is a three-stage endeavor.  From 2021 to 2025, the first stage involves at least six robotic missions to the Moon, with responsibility divided equally between China and Russia. The purpose of these surveys is to explore future lunar landing sites and survey. As part of the next stage, from 2026 to 2035, the parties will focus mainly on construction and mass deliveries, and the creation of objects in lunar orbit and on the surface. The final stage is scheduled to begin in 2036, when regular operations, such as lunar exploration and technology trials are expected to occur. However, it is possible that the planned timeframe could be significantly shortened, given the considerable experience and practical know-how that Russia and China already possess. Thus, this will be the largest joint project between China and Russia in space, fully in line with the general trend of Russian-Chinese cooperation in economic, military, and diplomatic fields.

Plans of Russia and China on the ILRS project go alongside with the Artemis program under the auspices of NASA, which plans to send US astronauts to the Moon in 2024 and secure the US long-term presence on the Moon’s surface in the next decade. At the same time, NASA is working with Japan, Canada and the European Space Agency to develop the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, which is supposed to be a staging area for space crews traveling to future stations on the Moon surface.

For their part, China and Russia have also stated that ILRS is open to the participation of international partners, including NASA. Both countries are also working on a “specific legal framework” for lunar exploration. “The ILRS is open to all international partners interested in cooperation in the planning, justification, design, development, implementation, and operation of the ILRS, strengthening research exchanges and promoting the peaceful exploration and use of space for the benefit of all mankind,” Roscosmos and the China National Space Administration (CNSA) said in a joint statement. The document stresses that the parties welcome tangible and intangible contributions from international partners to cooperate in establishing ILRS in every aspect of the mission at every stage, and are convinced that cooperation will be mutually beneficial to all participants.

The battle for the Moon is in full swing, and Russia and China are serious competitors to the US. Although Russia and China have said their joint project is open to other countries as well, Washington’s allies are unlikely to agree to participate. But they’re not the only ones. Of course, it would be more reasonable to develop space together – for all countries that can do it. As well as to jointly search for a remedy for coronavirus or other dangerous diseases. But, alas, Americans are not accustomed to cooperation, preferring instead to throw a spanner in the works of other people’s projects and implement only programs establishing its predominance.

Amid the Chinese space successes, China Manned Space Agency Assistant Director Ji Qiming recently said that China is confident about the prospects for expanding cooperation with Russia in space in many areas. “I believe that China and Russia will soon deploy cooperation on even more projects in space,” Ji Qiming stressed, adding that Beijing is “exploring opportunities to make an even greater contribution to the development of global space exploration together with Russia.”

“Russia and China, with the signing of a memorandum that launches plans to build an International Lunar Research Station either on the surface of the Moon or in its orbit, have heralded a new era of space cooperation between the two countries,”  French media noted.

However, the risks of space becoming an area of conflict have recently taken on very real shape. “This cannot be allowed,” Director of the Foreign Ministry Department for Nonproliferation and Arms Control Vladimir Ermakov said in a statement read out on October 7 at the UN General Assembly First Committee meeting. “Several UN Member States are pursuing the course towards the placement of weapons in outer space, increasing the capacities for the use of force (both kinetic and non-kinetic) against outer space objects, and the use of outer space for combat operations to achieve military superiority,” the statement reads among other things. In this connection, Russia has submitted several draft resolutions to the UN General Assembly First Committee intended to prevent space from becoming an arena of hostilities, including the clauses of “No first placement of weapons in outer space” and “Transparency and confidence-building measures in outer space activities” as well as “Further practical measures for the prevention of an arms race in outer space.”

Vladimir Danilov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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