China’s ideological approach to the Moon and its resources is a nationalistic discourse in which such space investments are viewed as adding to “national rejuvenation.”
The strategic significance of being the first to settle the Lunar surface has been highlighted, time and again, by China’s top space scientists, such as Wu Weiren; Ye Peijang, the head of CLEP; and Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist of CLEP, who is also research professor at the Institute of Geochemistry at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. In fact, back in 2011, Ye had expected the Chang’e 5 lunar sample return mission to be launched in 2017. Had the Long March 5 successfully launched in 2017, Ye’s expectation might well have been fulfilled. Ouyang stated in 2002 that “the moon could serve as a new and tremendous supplier of energy and resources for human beings… whoever first conquers the Moon will benefit first”. Ouyang stated in 2013, “The Moon is also ‘so rich’ in helium-3, which is a possible fuel for nuclear fusion”, that this could “solve human beings’ energy demand for around 10,000 years at least.”
From a policy and strategic perspective, it is critical we understand the reasons why these Chinese space scientists steer policy and resources for its space program and long-term ambitions. Contrary to misguided claims that China’s space policy and ambitions are only driven by junior officials, or that the lunar missions are nothing but the aspirations of some junior Chinese scientists (see “The myth of the ‘new space race’”, The Space Review, November 25, 2019), a factual assessment of scientists and policy makers involved in the lunar program will tell you that those who drive its space program are senior civilian and military officials, and who are top level CPC members.
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