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Astronauts, Earthquake Relief, the Olympics, and Chinese Pride

Posted by: Dexter Roberts on September 9, 2008

With national pride at a peak following the just completed Beijing Olympics, China’s government has plans for another major pride—boosting gesture. Between September 25-30, China plans to send three astronauts into orbit, with one of them to make China’s first walk in space, a space mission spokesperson announced on September 6th according to the China Daily. The cost of the venture has not been announced (China’s last manned space mission cost $110 million) but not surprisingly, it is expected to be substantial.

I couldn’t help noticing another bit of important news out today that warns that China is facing a shortfall in relief funds for the recent Sichuan earthquake. The article that ran in the online version of the September 9th China Daily says that China is facing an $180 billion shortfall, or that three quarters of the needed funds of $244 billion have still not been raised. Sichuan’s vice governor Huang Xiaoxiang said that the earthquake-hit region must rebuild 4.5 million homes, 11,700 schools, 9,700 hospital and clinics, 4,000 office buildings. Also needed is the reconstruction of 51,000 kilometers of highways, 5,500 kilometers of railways, 810 power stations, and 2,000 reservoirs. All told, the project will require 37 million tons of steel, 370 million tons of cement, and 210 billion bricks.

Juxtaposing the two bits of news, I can’t help wondering whether this is the right time to be spending millions on a space mission. Having just enjoyed the Olympics myself I feel pretty sure that the benefit of the Games was very much worth their multi-billion dollar cost—benefits including of course a boost to Chinese pride but also probably in health (a surge in interest in athletics in China is an almost certain result), better mutual understanding between China and the rest of the world following all the media attention the Games brought to the mainland, not to mention the sheer viewing pleasure the Games offered.

But is now the right time to fork out many more millions in a space mission that might bring some scientific benefit, but mostly seems to be about boosting pride? Given the gaping needs for better funding of everything from rural health and education, to a more extensive pension program—not to mention the earthquake relief—I’m not so sure. What if all the planned space spending instead was put into solving some of these pressing social problems instead—wouldn’t that be a real occasion for national pride?

Reader Comments


September 9, 2008 12:46 PM

Mr. Roberts: Don't worry about it. Let's look at the numbers. If the last manned mission was 110 million dollars, let's extrapolate the amount to 3x, which is 330 million dollars and the rebuilding program of Sichuan has a shortfall of 180 billion dollars, the amount is big but manageable. China has a 4 trillion dollars economy, it has 1.8 trillion dollars in currency reserve, it invested 1 trillion in U.S. securities, foreign investment money keeps on rushing in that they have to restrict them. If they can invest 43 billion for the Olympics, then they definitely have about 330 million dollars for this space mission. Let's compare: U.S. annual defense budget is about 500 billion dollars and the Iraq cost is about 3 trillion dollars (direct and indirect). Another story: about 15 years ago, JPL sent a satellite to space but forgot to convert the speed from English system to metric system, the cost of that failure: 600 million dollars! Relax.


September 9, 2008 5:56 PM

True, money is always greatly needed in many different areas by many people. But the same can be said for every other country in the world. NASA spent $400 million to send Phoenix to Mars despite the davastation in New Orleans, despite the hundreds of billions of dollars of national deficit. Developing space program is China's long term national policy that is not to be interrupted by daily events. Besides, this particular launch project was planed before the earthquake, and the money was already spent. It's not like the space agency is competing money with the earthquake relieve fund to fly the ship.

Finally, I'm not sure this is all about boosting gesture. Come on, do you really believe that the Chinese spend millions and risk their lives just to "boost pride"?


September 9, 2008 7:20 PM

The short fall is 180 billions to rebuild Sichuan after the earthquake on May of this year while the space program is only 110 millions so it it less than 1% of the required fund.

The investment on the space program is not only based "Face" or "pride" as you suggest but it is an exercise to boost Chinese aerospace industry. China is under sanction in many high technology due to Western paranoia so China has to develop its own tech and become technological independent and not be subjected to technological embargo at all.
The rebuild of Sichuan after the earthquake is national priority but technological independence is national security!


September 10, 2008 6:00 PM

Is this reporter really this naive? Or is he merely pretending to be naive in order to stir up things?

The Olympics and the space walk are just two of China's nation building milestones among a long strings of milestones which have been successfully completed in the last 30 years. China has made it a habit to reach these nation building milestones on or ahead of schedule. The Schechuan earth relieve, however are natural calamity which must be dealt with out side regular national fiscal policy. Given the size of Chinese economy and national reserve, the huge earthquake relief project is a huge challenge that can be handled with extra efforts by China, without deterring other nation building projects.


September 10, 2008 6:04 PM

More important for China, is to figure out how to move its Trillion dollar national reserve away from the very risky, very shaky US Treasury bonds and Mortagage Back Securities. China alreay suffers from hungreds of billions dollars of paper loss for holding too much of these deflating stuff.


September 10, 2008 11:01 PM

Dexter Roberts,

Before you write the above article, have you ever thought about

Why does the US spends $700 billion on defense annually and trillions of dollars to invade Iraq when 36 million Americans, including 14 million children still experience hunger???

Why does the US government insist on increasing its defense budget that is already larger than the rest of the world’s defense budgets combined even when it has to cut welfare to poor Americans???


September 10, 2008 11:12 PM

China's manned space mission has been planned long ago. There is absolutely no reason that it should be cut back or affected in any way by natural catastrophies such as the unforeseeable Sichuan earthquake.

The amount of spending by China on its space program really pales in comparision with the budgets of NASA and other space powers. It is also relatively insignificant compared to social spending programs in China that typically runs into billions.


September 11, 2008 1:16 AM


Even you have understated the US military budget - the total the American government will spend on its military should be about $700 billion, not $500 billion. Here is the link:

FY 2008 Budget Proposal :
For FY 2008, the President has requested the following:
The Defense Department Base Budget - $481 billion.
WoT(non-DoD) Base Budget - $73 billion.
Supplemental Funding for WoT - $145 billion.
Total requested Dod/WoT spending is $699 billion, or 65% of total net Discretionary spending.

Here is the same government that frets about China spending too much on defense while itself spending $700 billion!!! i.e. more than the rest of the world combined...


September 11, 2008 2:37 AM

You have made an excellent point, Wen! China has lost far more money buying shares in American financial institutions, American bonds and financial instruments than she has ever spent on her own space program!

I would much rather that China spend more of her hard earned cash on space and technology research programs than investing American bonds that finance American military aggression around the world!

Start looking at china with diffrent lense

September 11, 2008 3:08 AM

Its time to start looking at china with different lenses. Going to space is not about national pride, it is about innovation

Mr. Chan

September 11, 2008 3:39 AM

The writer of this article shouldn't worry about CHINA. He should worry about the united states. With large trade and budget deficits they still "promised" georgia a billion dollars in aid. The question is with whose money? I hope it is not with money borrowed from CHINA, because that will be unacceptable. And remember CHINA has both trade and budget surpluses, not to mention foreign cash reserves in the amount of 2 trillion dollars.


September 11, 2008 10:17 AM

China today reminds me of USSR in the 60's. Almost every comment that is posted here rationalizes China's action because US spends so much more.....just like USSR tried during the cold war period.


September 11, 2008 4:20 PM

Most other posters arguments seems pretty rational to me. Are you accuusing these random posters presenting their own opinions as equivalent to USSR totalitarian dictators? If so, don't you need to present some proof? Or was it enough just because you said so. Do you need to rationalize your own comments?

Why not try to rationalize the 700 Billion US military budget? Or to rationalize US invasion to Iraq based on fabricated 'evidence' of WMD?


September 11, 2008 10:37 PM

Optimist, it is the US rather than China that really resembles the USSR of the 60s and 70s. More and more guns, less and less butter for its people so as to make room for a US$700 billion budget for military adventures around the world. The US financial system is already collapsing, its economy is following the path of the Soviet Union.


September 13, 2008 1:25 AM

@Optimist and Saul,

I wonder why super smart, high IQ soviets ruled by a totalitarian autocratic communist party imploded while the usually perceived slow, sloppy and democratic USA not only survived but thrived after the cold war.

If anybody thinks that USA's influence on the world is reducing (and its economy is faltering), there could not be a more naive assumption. Just see how they pushed the India-US Nuclear Deal at IAEA and NSG, inspite of opposition from so called important countries like Japan and China. Let us keep in mind that if the US so desires, its juggernaut can still steamroll anybody. Just that they are so powerful, they usually don't have to prove that point everytime. And BTW, I am not American....


September 13, 2008 12:06 PM

To Optimist,
"the usually perceived slow, sloppy and democratic USA"
USA perceived slow, sloppy...? You must be joking. I don't and most people in the world certainly don't.

You must have confused USA with India. India is of course slow and sloppy... Don't lump USA and India together because both have "democratic" credentials. They are worlds apart.


September 14, 2008 3:36 AM

United State is democratic but I would not associate it with slow, sloppy like some one like country like to associate with the USA since both countries happened to be democratic. There "democrazy" and then there is DEMOCRACY!
India democracy could be described by not only slow and sloppy, but also chaotic and ineffective ..

I don't know why they always like to get into any Chinese issue that India isn't even mentioned at all on this blog. Crying for attention.

Well, rebuilding Sichuan after the earthquake is immediate national priority while advancing Chinese aerospace industry and technology is long term national security for the country


September 14, 2008 11:47 AM

JCage and Thomas,

Just see what happened in Georgia. Russians came, did their job and left. USA and NATO are still not sure what hit them. It took 10 years for the Americans to enhance their influence in that part of the world. And it took Russia less than 10 days to undo it. Are you still wondering who is slow and sloppy?


September 14, 2008 11:43 PM

Right Optimist, before Indian hyper-nationalists here celebrate the India-US Nuclear Deal, they better learn how adept the American government is at playing games with you.

World Nuclear Trade Group Agrees to Restrict Sales to India

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 12, 2008; A10

A 45-nation group that governs trade in nuclear equipment and materials privately agreed last weekend that none of its members plans to sell sensitive technologies to India, according to sources familiar with the discussion. The agreement undercuts one of the Indian government's key rationales for seeking a civilian nuclear deal with the United States -- that it would open the door for "full civil nuclear cooperation" with the rest of the world.

The Nuclear Suppliers Group's previously undisclosed understanding helped persuade several skeptical member states to support a waiver authorizing nuclear trade with India, the sources said. Winning the NSG waiver was necessary before the Bush administration could submit the landmark U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement to Congress. President Bush transmitted the agreement to Congress late Tuesday night, and administration officials are pressing for action before Congress adjourns later this month.

India has been barred from the worldwide nuclear market since it diverted fuel from civilian reactors to conduct a nuclear test in 1974, leaving it without advanced uranium-enrichment and plutonium-reprocessing technology that is superior to India's homegrown industry. In 2005, the Bush administration proposed freeing India from those constraints through a bilateral agreement, as a way of forging closer ties between the two nations.

The NSG separately is nearing consensus on a total ban on sensitive sales to countries such as India that have not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty -- a move that would put such trade even further out of New Delhi's reach. The NSG discussion has received little public attention, but it was another factor in persuading countries such as Ireland, New Zealand and Austria to end their effort to write such trade restrictions into the waiver for India.

"In the discussions about how to handle enrichment and reprocessing, it was made clear that nobody had any plans to transfer such technologies to India in the foreseeable future," said a senior U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was describing private diplomatic exchanges. While such statements were not binding, he said, the NSG countries recognized that they were planning to "tighten up" the rules on such sales in the near future, allowing them to achieve the same restrictions on India later without causing a diplomatic rupture now.

The current NSG guidelines call for members "to exercise restraint in the transfer of sensitive facilities, technology and material usable for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices." Several member countries, such as Canada and Argentina, are seeking language that would permit them to develop and sell their own nuclear fuel technology, but all members appear to agree that countries that have not signed the treaty should be banned from such trade.

The NSG waiver for India has generated new momentum for the U.S.-India nuclear deal. Administration officials are asking Congress to sidestep a legal requirement to wait at least 30 days before voting to grant final approval, arguing that a failure to vote this month would put U.S. companies at a competitive disadvantage.


September 14, 2008 11:59 PM


As far as I know, you are the only one on this forum to characterize Americans as "slow as sloppy". Maybe that is due to your new found pride as an Indian super-nationalist in seeing India able to sustain a few years of relatively fast economic growth vs the US or maybe that's the conclusion you draw after seeing Indian business process outsourcing business able to steal more and more white collar jobs from America. But let me tell you here, I totaly disagree with your views on America. Slow and sloppy is indeed an Indian problem, but definitely not an American problem!


September 15, 2008 12:23 AM

Exactly the opposite of what Optimist wrote is true. Unlike India, America is far from "slow and sloppy." Quite the contrary, America is fast and efficient.

America's problem lies not in being "slow and sloppy" but in its huge and expanding military industrial complex that President Dwight Eisenhower already warned against decades ago. $700 billion and expanding ... to the point of crowding out other far more urget items on the budget including investment in education and social services... at a time of economic recession and rising budget deficit... when there are few meaningful military challenges in the world. Soon or later it is going to bankrupt America just like what the military industrial complex did to the Soviet Union in the 1970s...


September 16, 2008 9:33 PM

"If anybody thinks that USA's influence on the world is reducing (and its economy is faltering), there could not be a more naive assumption. Just see how they pushed the India-US Nuclear Deal at IAEA and NSG, inspite of opposition from so called important countries like Japan and China. Let us keep in mind that if the US so desires, its juggernaut can still steamroll anybody. Just that they are so powerful, they usually don't have to prove that point everytime. And BTW, I am not American...."

Mr. Over Optimistic, America tried to steamroll Vietnam but failed miserably.

I can easily tell that you are Indian. Your commenting style is typical of Indians i.e. sycophancy towards the white nations such as America and the west and cynicism towards non-white nations like China and Japan.

and ofcourse theres always dragging India into the middle even when India is not part of the forum as if India is a very important country.

You contradict yourself first by saying that America can crush anyone militarily then by saying that Russia screwed America in Georgia in a matter of days. Make up your mind.

Super Taikonaut

September 22, 2008 10:20 PM

China is due to launch it's third manned mission into space which will also involve a spacewalk by Chinese Taikonaut.

Optimist, you and your fellow Indians can eat your jealous hearts out.

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