It is wrong for the United States and Japan to launch a space race targeting China

Workers press wash the NASA logo on the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, US, May 19, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

At their meeting on Friday, US President Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida are expected to step up joint US-Japanese operations in outer space, including helping Japanese astronauts land on the moon. The two sides may extend the US-Japan security treaty to outer space, saying it is necessary due to growing threats from China and Russia.

Needless to say, such moves would send a dangerous signal that could lead to a new “star war”.

Upon becoming president, Biden revived the United States’ manned lunar program to return astronauts to Earth’s satellite. This move is clearly aimed at China, because it decided to send Chinese astronauts to the moon within a decade.

According to NASA, Artemis is the first step in the next era of human exploration. Together with commercial and international partners, NASA will establish a sustainable presence on the Moon to prepare for missions to Mars.

This is an exciting race to the moon. The United States used to compete with the Soviet Union in space science and exploration. While Yuri Gagarin of the Soviet Union became the first man to travel to outer space, Neil Armstrong became the first man to land on the moon. The space competition between the United States and the Soviet Union lasted decades—until the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. After that, the US space agency shifted its focus to Mars and even deeper outer space.

Now that the United States feels it faces new competition from China, which has announced a slew of space programs including the construction of an International Space Station, which is nearing completion, it is eager to return to the Moon before any Chinese national landing there. The United States wants to prove that it remains a leader in outer space research and exploration.

By inviting European, Canadian and Japanese space agencies to join the Artemis program, the United States is trying to expand international cooperation in lunar exploration. According to reports, the Artemis program aims to send a US-Japanese team to the Moon in 2025. If this is achieved, Japan will become, ahead of China, the second country to send its astronauts (astronauts) to the Moon. It is possible that some European and Canadian astronauts will also travel to the Moon before China.

If all of the above really happened, there’s good reason to congratulate the American, European, Canadian and Japanese astronauts, as they will follow in the footsteps of Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to take “one more small step for man, one giant leap for ‘mankind'” since space (and outer space) is a global commune. Crucially, any success achieved by individual or group efforts is commendable.

However, although the European, Canadian, and Japanese space agencies are developing their own space research capabilities, the program will depend primarily on American space technology for success.

In such a fierce competition, even if China does not become the second country to send its astronauts to the moon, it will still be among the space powers to achieve success on the basis of domestic technology.

Since Washington launched the Artemis program as part of its strategic competition with China, it certainly will not invite China to join its programme. More importantly, the return of American astronauts to the moon will in no way discredit China’s well-earned expertise in sending astronauts to the moon using its own technology, or its plan to establish a long-term lunar research station on the moon. This efficiency is in no way less important than the success of the manned mission to the moon.

The US side was reportedly loath to invite Chinese astronauts to the International Space Station. But this did not stop China from launching its own space station program. Now, with China’s space station almost ready for operation, Beijing has called for requests for international cooperation at various levels.

Once China succeeds in its manned mission to the moon, one can also expect it to enhance international cooperation by training foreign astronauts to join future Chinese-led lunar missions. China’s exploration of deep space will also intensify, given the country’s continuous development, on the economic, scientific and technological fronts.

In short, competition isn’t a bad thing, especially in space and other global commons. But competition should not turn into rivalry, and no country should aspire to dominate the entire planet, by establishing its dominance in space. Competition must be developed in a healthy and constructive manner. After all, when a space stakeholder encounters a space urgency, it is more likely to seek help from other space stakeholders, which may further promote space exploration.

The author is a professor and former executive dean of the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University.

The opinions do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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