China Comment

Energy, Environment, and Economy

China in Space

China recently announced it would launch its third manned spaceflight later this month.

With the US Shuttle’s planned retirement, and the Orion’s delayed development, the United States’ space presence could theoretically in the future be threatened in prestige by the Chinese. Below, I examine the Chinese space program, and possible implications for America’s space program.

China’s Plans for Space

* Space Station China plans to build a space station and a space laboratory before 2020.

* The Moon China has vague plans for putting a person on the moon by 2020, but plans are not yet official. The Economist cites Jiao Weixin of Peking University who “says China would not have the technical ability to put a man on the moon for another 20 years.” If China develops the capacity, that would put China’s moon arrival date around 2027. It appears somewhat odd to state it could take China so long to put someone on the moon, considering how they have rapidly accelerated their space program in the past five years.

Comparatively, NASA was founded in the US in 1958, conducted ASAT tests by 1959, had astronauts in space by 1962, landed “men on the moon” in 1969, and launched Skylab in 1973.

Today, China has access to superior technology than what the US possessed in the 1960s. If funding and bureaucratic will exists, I do not think it would be foolish to suggest the Chinese could feasibly reach their spaceflight goals ahead of schedule.

Assuming China’s progress tracks America’s historical progress (and it will by no means necessarily track similar milestones, for various reasons), China would be able to reach the moon eight years after China first launched manned spaceflight. That is, they could arrive by 2011-2012. No sources indicate the Chinese are attempting to achieve those dates. Still, a moon landing would be a dramatic accomplishment to highlight President Hu’s passing the baton of leadership at the 2012 Party Congress.

* Lunar Exploration

In 2007, as an intermediate step toward eventual human exploration of the moon, China sent a lunar probe. In 2009, China will send its second lunar probe, the Chang’e II. In 2012, China intends to land a moon rover vehicle. In 2017, China hopes to send a second moon rover that will land, collect soil samples, and then return to Earth (Xinhua).

Chinese Space Flight Timeline

October 2003, with the Shenzhou V’s successful journey, China became the third country to send a person into space with its own equipment.

October 2005, China sent two people into space for a five-day period on the Shenzhou VI.

January 2007, China conducted an Anti-Satellite ASAT test, becoming the third country to have successfully performed such a test (PINR).

October 24, 2007, China sent a lunar probe to the moon (Chang’e I).

Late September 2008, China will send three people into space on the Shenzhou VII. They will perform China’s first spacewalk (IHT).

How Much are the Chinese Spending?

 Estimates of Chinese space expenditures vary, but the World Security Institute posted an overview of amounts. Official statements indicate the Chinese spent about $120 million on the Shenzhou V program, and claimed space program  spending of $240 million a year; but those sums are almost certainly significantly underreported. More recently Chinese-government reported estimates appear to be closer to reality. China Daily, for example, claims $630 million will be invested in a new project to design a carrier rocket, the Long March V. Western reports suggest China’s annual space expenditures as between $1.2 to $3 billion, which would make Chinese space program spending comparable to Japan (~$2.1 billion) and Russia’s yearly expenditures (~$1.4 billion).

In 2005, the United States spent over $16 billion on government-sponsored space exploration, with $6 billion going toward space flight, $4 billion to the shuttle, and $500 million for flight support. (In 2007, NASA spent $16.8 billion, and in 2006 the European Space Administration spent over $4 billion.) NASA estimates the cost for “landing a crew on the Moon in 2020: [will be] $64 billion in FY2003 dollars. The $64 billion consists of $24 billion to build and operate the Crew Exploration Vehicle from FY2004-2020; plus $40 billion for the years 2011-2020 to build the lunar lander portion of that vehicle, a new launch vehicle, and operations. The $64 billion does not include the cost of robotic missions” (NASA, 4).

China is spending a good amount on space exploration, but it appears to be embarking on small practical steps rather than grandiose displays in development. China intends to perfect technology designed to traverse the lunar surface before it makes concrete plans to send human beings to the moon.

China probably could, through concerted funding and engineering, send a shuttle with humans to the moon by 2014-2017, since by then it should have a moon rover that can land and then return to Earth. However, plans appear directed toward developing technology to permit human landing on the moon for extended periods. Without development of a practical exploration vehicle, exploration of the moon might be too limited to justify significant expenditures.

For now, most of China’s space spending appears focused on satellites and spacecraft. China’s narrow focus might allow it to develop new programs much quicker. Still, without significant further investment, it is unlikely the Chinese will travel to the moon until after 2014 when resources can be refocused on exploration vehicles.


* Chinese success in space flight, coming at a time when America is drawing back space exploration programs and entering into an antagonistic cycle vis-a-vis Russia might lead to postulations that America might buy astronaut flight time from the Chinese in order to fulfill American obligations toward the International Space Station. However, this probably will not happen.

Although the following is speculation of a space-wise layman, it appears that China’s space program will develop too slowly to present a complement or competitor to NASA in the crucial period, 2010 to 2014, when NASA might benefit from a strong Chinese space-partner.

* NASA’s current Shuttle will be retired by 2010 if current policies are continued. US cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) is expected to be transported by private companies after that date. These companies include Orbital Science and SpaceX (run by the founder of PayPa1). NASA also plans to close the gap of ISS supply by “buy[ing] roughly $700 million worth of [cargo] services from Russia through 2011” (MSNBC). 

American astronauts could be transported to the ISS by the Russians. But, considering recent tensions, continued cooperation with a Russian space program might be unlikely.  And after 2011 when an agreement to purchase cargo from the Russians expires, NASA will likely be pressured to reach a politically safe solution to solve its cargo and astronaut supply problem.

Assuming that cargo ships are ready by delivery-date, which is by no means necessarily going to be achieved, cargo ships will be available in late 2010, early 2011. However, if the Shuttle is retired on schedule, astronauts will be unable to reach the ISS with American ships. As a stop-gap measure, astronauts might  be transported on SpaceX’s cargo ships, which are being designed to be “man-rated,” but which are as yet unproven.

* Although some hoped to have NASA’s new Orion class shuttles ready for service by late 2013; the project deadline is more likely to creep toward March 2015. That makes it even more imperative for NASA to close the shuttleless gap between 2010 and 2015.

* NASA is studying feasibility of extending the current shuttles’ lives until 2015. Extension of useful lives presents problems both practical as to the shuttle maintenance, and economic since NASA hopes to divert flight money to development of its Orion-class shuttles.

* Assuming private options fail to produce, NASA might be tempted to look to China to help it fly astronauts to the ISS. However, there are problems with this scenario. China is not a partner involved with the ISS. Indeed, that appears to be a reason for Chinese plans to create a uniquely Chinese satellite. And politically, the deal could be touchy. A China-partnership might be marginally more politically acceptable than a Russia-partnership, but still, China is occasionally lambasted by Congress over human rights issues, most recently for its treatment of the T1b33tan unrest. Thus, such a partnership with China would be wrought with uncertainty. More important, China currently lacks capacity to rent or sell passage on its ships. China has its spaceflight resources quite busy putting even one space flight up each year.

Chinese Future in Space

China’s current space funding is not significant enough to pull off a near-future manned trip to the moon, or launch of a space station any time soon. Still, if funds are discovered in China’s budget for exploration and development, China could probably beat the United States back to the moon. However, China seems dedicated to a slow but steady vision of gradually increasing funds and development of space exploration. After 2015, the US will have its new Orion craft, and the Chinese will be send a land and return rover to the moon. In 2019, the US will return to the moon. In 2021 or 2022, a Chinese taikonaut might follow soon thereafter.


China National Space Administration (Click Here for English)

China’s Space Activities in 2006 (China government white paper) contains plans for the next 5-15 years and indepth discussion of China’s space achievements in fields such as satellites, and multilateral space-exploration agreements.

A powerpoint report by CRS (Congressional Research Services) on China’s Space Program.

NASA’s plan to get back to space and the moon (Popular Mechanics).

(added Sept. 26) TIME Magazine’s Sept 24th article on the Shenzhou VII.

12 September, 2008 Posted by | China Future, China Technology | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wind Power In China

 Long known for its polluting and dirty coal industry, did you know that China also has fast-developing and promising wind and nuclear industries? It needs to, especially since it became a net oil importer in the last ten years and is importing increasing amounts of coal to feed its economic expansion.

This article focuses on China’s Wind Industry.

“China intends to spend an estimated $200 billion on renewable energy over the next 15 years.” And as of April 2008, “the [Chinese] government has set a target for renewable energy to account for 10 percent of the country’s energy consumption by 2010 and 15 percent by 2020.” This may be a reasonable goal, given that China met its goal for installed wind-power generating capacity three years ahead of schedule.

In February 2008 a report was released that stated China’s wind power generation rose 95.2% to 5.6 million Kw hours in 2007. “The government plans to increase its wind power equipment to a combined installed capacity of 10 million kw by 2015, and to 30 million kw by 2020.”

To encourage further development; “The Chinese government has begun refunding value-added tax (VAT) and import duties on core wind power turbine parts and materials in a move to promote the development of clean energy.”

And feverish work has already begun:

In March, China announced the “creation of a high-level body to integrate its energy management, supervision and policies, functions that are currently dispersed among many government agencies.” This should allow for more streamlined development of the wind and renewables sector.

“China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC) plans to build the world’s biggest offshore wind farm… near Weihai City in eastern Shandong Province.” The whole project which will result in 1.1-2.5 million megawatt hours may take up to 10 years to complete.

“By 2010, China Power New Energy… plans to put into operation 1,500 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy capacity… It also plans to have another 1,500 MW under construction and a further 1,500 MW in the pipeline… That would be 50 percent higher than the company’s original target of having 1,000 MW of renewable energy capacity on stream, 1,000 MW under construction and another 1,000 MW in the pipeline… The company now had installed renewable energy capacity of 980 MW,”

Why the focus on wind? According to a 2007 research industry report by QYResearch “Wind power is the most popular renewable energy in China, compared to the solar energy industry; as its cost is much lower. Chinese wind power price is about 0.5-0.6RMB/KW.h while the traditional power price is about 0.2-0.3RMB/KW.h, but solar power price is about 8 times that of wind power price, therefore wind power is very welcome in China. ”

For a little perspective, The Earth Policy Institute has a lot of good data on the amount of wind capacity installed worldwide. As of 2007 Germany leads the world with over 22,247 MW, the US is second with 16,818 (and led the world in 2007 installed capacity of over 5,000 MW), Spain is third with 15,145 MW, then India with 8,000 MW, China with 6,050 MW, and Denmark with 3,125 MW.

China added 3,449 MW of wind energy in 2008. Each year, China has added greater and greater amounts of wind energy capacity. With the current positive regulatory environment, increasing production capabilities, and the proliferation of environmentally-based trade fairs showcasing cutting-edge technology, China is demonstrating that it wants to move to the forefront of clean energy technology development. As quoted at the Green Leap Forward; “The National Reform and Development Commission was considering almost tripling wind energy targets for 2020, from 30 GW to as much as 100 GW. To put that number in context, realize that current installed wind capacity is about 94 GW…globally.”

Considering China’s rapid progress thus far in wind energy development; it appears that within the next three to ten years China might very likely become one of the world’s major leaders in wind renewable energy.

Other Interesting Tidbits
 * Junfeng Li at the WorldWatch Institute provides a nice analysis and chart listing of the major wind power producers in China.
* The Green Leap Forward had a good article on China’s Wind Power.
* China Wind Power Report: 2007
* China Brief on China’s new energy regulatory commission.
* Renewable and Alternative Energy News on China.

16 June, 2008 Posted by | China Energy, China Future, China Technology | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Isn’t That Odd? China’s Wind Grid Troubles

In a few hours I’ll post a more indepth article about Chinese wind power; but for this edition of “Isn’t That Odd?” I’ll discuss a little about some results of inefficient bureaucracies in China.

Similar to their counterparts in many state bureaucracies, China’s bureaucrats have a way of dropping the ball.

In January 2008, Reuters pointed out that: “China’s wind power generating capacity surged to 5.6 gigawatts by the end of last year, but over a quarter of it is still not connected to the grid because of bad planning.” With the creation of a National Energy Commission in March 2008, these inefficiencies might disappear, but some people who were hoping for a more comprehensive Ministry disagree.

I wonder if my earlier comment sunk in though, so I’ll repeat it: Over a quarter of wind-generating capacity installed in 2007 is still not attached to the grid- but why? Maybe because as the article goes on to say; “local governments are keen to jump on the renewable energy bandwagon as Beijing pushes greener growth, [therefore] they are approving new wind farms without proper planning.”

Chinese local governments, pursuing directives from the top have long been infamous for making grandiose plans that gain them plaudits from central planners, but don’t actually solve problems that the people are actually facing.

In Great Leap Forward times (1957-1959) local cadres gave “excess” food to the central government for redistribution while their citizens starved, because the cadres couldn’t admit the harvest was weak without admitting failure. In later times, shoddy buildings were constructed and polluting industries flourished because the important thing was the number of people employed, not the quality of the factory, or the buildings. This can have tragic consequences, as demonstrated by the collapses of shoddily-constructed schools as a result of the Sichuan earthquake.

So, in wind too, as in previous pushes toward “self-strengthening,” today’s Chinese government officials are making the same mistake as their predecesors did with the “backyard furnaces” (where steel was smelted en masse, but was of such low quality that all it really contribuited was greater pollution), and the project to eliminate birds (because they ate crops… somehow it was forgotten that insects, which birds eat, can be much more destructive.)

Likely, many of these wind generators are subpar- not up to international standards since the local cadres were more interested in gaining governmental plaudits than in really cleaning up the environment.

Oh well, that’s central planning for you. At least the turbines are there; some will work, and ultimately the cadres who know what they’re doing will (hopefully) be commended. (To take a pollyanna view of the situation.)

The question is, how many incompetent cadres will be reprimanded… But that’s a topic for another article.

13 June, 2008 Posted by | China Energy, China Technology, Isn't That Odd? | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Off the Shelf: China and Murphy’s “Are We Rome?”

Off the Shelf: An in-depth look at something I am reading.

Are We Rome? (2007)
-Cullen Murphy, managing editor of the Atlantic Monthly.

Murphy’s examination of how America’s experience of “empire” compares to Rome’s empire can lead some to question if America is in danger of crumbling? This led me to examine causes for worry that American hegemony might be at an end, and to see whether or not China possessed some of America’s strengths and weaknesses.

Murphy describes traits of successful empires. He notes the importance of technology and innovation, and the spread of culture. He complains about political patronage, American exceptionalism (Manifest Destiny), and argues that privatization induces corruption and helped lead to Rome’s decline.

Technology and innovation in China still lags behind that of many developed countries, Nicholas Lardy of the Brookings Institution would argue. Although patent applications are up and the number of college graduates continues to rise, the quality of the graduates is hampered due to less-than expert teachers. When programs increase enrollment five or tenfold in size within a decade, either more students are packed into a class, or less knowledgeable teachers are paraded onto a stage.

As of 2005, America and Japan lead the world in patents by a large margin. with 186,000 granted to Japanese, 135,000 to Americans, 64,000 to Koreans, and 21,000 (6th on the list) granted to the Chinese. In terms of Engineering graduates, in 2004 the US graduated 137,000 students with Bachelor’s in Engineering degrees; India graduated 112,000; and China, 354,106. “In terms of degrees awarded per one million citizens, the United States awarded 758 degrees; China, 497 degrees; and India, 199″ (National Science Teachers Association). Additionally, some “Engineers” graduated by China may be the equivalent of motor mechanics and industrial technicians (ibid).

However, 20-30 years down the line, after constructing a more robust learning supply-chain, China’s educational investment might begin to pay off significantly. According to the Economist; “By 2015 its research scientists and engineers may outnumber those of any other country. By 2020 it aims to spend a bigger share of its GDP on research and development (R&D) than the European Union.”

Murphy claims America, like Rome, draws power from immigrants, but he notes that some places with high levels of multicultural variegation, such as California can become anarchic amalgams unless care is taken to instill a sense of civic responsibility and lower the wealth distribution differential.

Currently, the United States confronts rates of CEO pay at 430 to 1 where back in the 1960s they averaged of 25 to 1 of an average workers’ salary. The Ancient Romans suffered rates of 1000+ to 1. However, China also confronts a significant wealth distribution differential with a Gini coefficient only .03 points lower than the US’ (More Detail Here).

Indeed, the 2008 unrest in T*b*t can be partially attribuited to “unfair” Han Chinese exploitation of the region. The report, “No One Has the Liberty to Refuse“, written in June 2007, demonstrates how the 2008 protests originated for reasons other than alleged “cultural repression” (An Audio Clip is available HERE; A shorter article is HERE). Thousands of T*b*tans have been relocated into the cities, where they cannot find work, and where they compete with Han Chinese for jobs. Life has improved in T*b*t in the past decade, with an economic growth rate over 12% for “six consecutive years,” government-subsidized schooling and social programs. However, new Chinese immigrants whose numbers were buoyed by the 2006 rail line, have begun to culturally and economically colonize the under-developed region.

Immigration and tourism- seeing millions more than before the rail was opened- create a culture clash potentially much more deadly than the one in California forecasted by Murphy.

Murphy then complains about patronage through a focus on Pliny the Younger. He laments the appointments (suffragium) in the government based on connections in both ancient Rome and modern America.

However, as any scholar of China will be quick to note– China is notorious for the practice guanxi and an almost religious attraction to “patronage-like” associations based on friendship rather than efficiency. 

Ultimately, most, if not all countries suffer from overriding patronage; from Britain’s old boy’s clubs, to the French ecole class of Administrators, to America’s old Ivy League elite.

There is always a danger if patronage appointments are completely unaccountable; but disasters have a way of dismissing incompetent leaders. For example, Hurricane Katrina led to the downfall of Michael Brown, and China’s SARS crisis allowed Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao to demonstrate courage and leadership by staying in Beijing during the crisis; while other leaders, notably members of Jiang Zemin’s clique,  left Beijing on trips to SARS-unaffected provinces. Arguably, Hu and Wen’s actions helped strengthen their political capital to the detriment of Jiang’s “Shanghai Gang” which has since seen members such as former Shanghai Party Boss Chen Liangyu sacked for corruption.

The Middle Kingdom long enjoyed a position as the center of the East Asian world. Diplomats from as far as Vietnam and T*b*t would kowtow to the Emperor. This position changed after the 1860s and the Opium Wars. But now, the Middle Kingdom is trying to get back at the world’s center. China’s naval developments and interest in ports at Gwadar, involvement in the ASEAN+3 grouping, establishment of the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization), and greater involvement in the UN peacekeeping operations demonstrate an increasing willingness of China to act internationally. [A forthcoming article will examine these assertions.]

Murphy also discusses how contractors and privatization of American military are hollowing out America’s defensive spirit in much the same way mercenary barbarians contributed to Rome’s downfall. The contractors’ training and standards of justice are allegedly dissimilar from those upheld by the American military.

China seems to escape the problem faced by America; its cyberterrorism/cybersecurity is controlled tightly by the government. In contrast, even United States’ Government’s systems are outsourced to private companies- thus the spat over a proposed Huawei/3M merger.

China’s military problem appears to be not that it outsources its military development, but that it doesn’t have good enough internal development. C4I and equipment integration, as discussed in books on China’s military by James Mulvenon and David Shambaugh, are better in America and other developed countries. China also purchases many ships and airplanes from Russia instead of through internal construction. As China develops its home defense industry, this problem might dissipate.


Ultimately, Murphy presented an intriguing historical comparison of American “empire” and Roman. He identifies weak points in America’s government and military and raises calls for concern. But although China lacks several of America’s weaknesses, it still confronts remarkably similar obstacles and has many of its own challenges to overcome.

Murphy’s book is recommended for general readers, and for those interested in America’s position in the world. It never mentions China, but in an internationally anarchic system of diplomacy, the loss of power for America might well be a zero-sum game that gives China a leg up, so it is interesting to analyze the possibilities.

7 June, 2008 Posted by | Book Review, China Future, China Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment