EXPLAINER: Why should India worry about China's space program

China has in the past been accused of using its satellites to snoop on India in Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh.

China has come out with its ambitious plans to embark on a massive space exploration program, around the same time its neighbour India successfully tested Agni V, a 5000-km range missile that could carry a nuclear warhead to most of the targets in China.

While the timing of the two announcements from India and China may be mere coincidence, there is no denying the fact that India’s Agni-V and China’s space program have far reaching implications on each other country’s national security.

In case of China, the Asian heavyweight has made it clear that it intends on using space to bolster its national security, which is bound to raise concerns next door in India.

“China is clearly looking to develop more of focussed satellites that could take high resolution images as well as help them carry out surveillance in other countries. Its space program is bound to have implications for India,” Samir Patil, an expert who formerly worked at Indian government’s National Security Council (NSC), told InUth. In a policy document released this week, the Chinese leadership has made bolstering national security as of the objectives of its space program.

How does China’s space program affect India?

  • Concerns were also raised by an Indian Parliamentarian in 2014 over possible use of Beijing’s Asiasat-8 satellite to keep a watch on Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh.
  • The US views China’s space exploration program with suspicion, and has even reportedly said that China was moving toward the point where it could influence other countries’ space capabilities. Patil, who is presently a national security fellow at Mumbai-based foreign policy think-tank Gateway House agrees, “Through their space program, they are trying to put weapons in space.”
  • Patil notes that China is already among the only three countries, the other two being the US and Russia, that possess a weapon to shoot down a satellite.

How can space be used for the purpose of national defense?

  • Navigation and high-resolution imaging are two ways that satellites can be used to convey details about enemy targets.
  • China’s BeiDou Navigation satellite, in orbit since 2000, is believed to be used by the Chinese military to carry out surveillance activities on other countries.
  • Patil from Gateway House notes that even India used a satellite surveillance system to track enemy movements before carrying out “surgical strikes” on terrorist bases in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) in September.
  • At least 6 countries are majorly involved in space exploration, including Russia, America, Israel, China, India and Europe.
  • Patil reckoned that out of the six powers, only European countries are using space exclusively for peaceful purposes. “It is pretty ambiguous when it comes to other nations. All the countries say they don’t use space for military uses but there is ample evidence to suggest that they are making headway into using space to secure their security interests.”
  • He said that almost every country’s space program started out as peaceful and later morphed into a military-civilian hybrid.

How does India compare to China when it comes to using space for national security?

  • Patil noted that it wasn’t fair to make comparison between space programs of two Asian giants as both specialise in certain areas of space exploration.

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  • “China tried to send a mission to Mars but failed. India, on the other hand, was able to send a probe to Mars at the cost which was less than the budget of Gravity movie,” he said.
  • Patil said that China, however, held the edge when it came to exploring the moon, as the country is already working toward putting a human on the moon using indigenous technology.
  • “China seems to have a very focussed approach to space exploration. The fact that they they put down their space ambitions in a white paper, inviting public opinion on such a sensitive topic, speaks volumes.”
  • “In India, though we do have a very active political discussion on the matter, it hasn’t been as open as of China’s.” Patil said,”But India does attach high priority to space-related matters. Why else would space exploration be directly under the supervision of the Prime Minister?”

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