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China's Cosmic Tune Download

Posted by: Brian Bremner on July 7, 2006

Beijing is asking its citizenry to come up with 30 favorite Chinese songs that will be transmitted to earth from a lunar-probing satellite expected to be launched in 2007. It’s a clever gimmick to rally public support for China’s larger national ambition to pull off a manned space mission to the moon by 2024. This July 7 report says the lunar satellite will be able to grab three-dimensional images of the lunar surface and analyze the moon’s soil and basic elements. Back in 2003, China succeeded with its maiden manned space flight, in which Yang Liwei orbited the Earth. Over the next couple of decades, China hopes to land a robotic explorer on the moon followed by the triumphant arrival of Chinese taikonauts.

China insists its space program is peaceful, but more than just national pride may be at work here. U.S., Japanese and Taiwanese defense experts think China is deadly serious about being a player in what defense types call “integrated network electronic warfare.” That essentially means having the capability of disrupting enemy networking information systems. The Pentagon’s 2005 study on Chinese military capabilities sees Beijing pursuing two goals aggressively. China likely will have 100 satellites in orbit by 2010, some peaceful but others providing global reconnaissance coverage of rivals’ military activity.

China’s defense establishment is also investing heavily into anti-satellite weaponry. Right now, Beijing can destroy or disable satellites with ballistic missiles, a less than ideal solution. So it is researching ground-based laser weapons that will eventually be able to blind or take out satellites. And with an economy projected to hit $6.4 trillion by 2024, according to Pentagon projections, China likely will have the economic resources to get there. Already, its official $30 billion defense budget is widely believed to be grossly understated when you factor in foreign weapons purchases, especially from Russia, defense industry subsidies and so on.

Well, I guess we can all look forward to fun times ahead as the US and Chinese race to militarize space. But right now I am actually more interested in dwelling on what songs the Chinese public may come up with for next year’s cosmic tune-fest. The East is Red, anyone? If you have suggestions, send them along.

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Bloomberg Businessweek’s team of Asia reporters brings you the latest insights on business, politics, technology and culture from some of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies.

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