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The Final Frontier
India vs. China: The Next Space Race?

Under Narendra Modi, India has stepped up its ambitions across the globe, increasingly acting like a great power in its own right and as a critical balance against a rising China. Is India now taking its rivalry with China to the final frontier, kicking off an Asian space race? The Financial Times thinks so:

A new space race is under way in Asia, with China and India duelling for dominance while other countries make leaps of their own. National pride and defence are major motivators, but so are practical considerations — generating income from satellite launches, mitigating natural disasters and monitoring crops. By establishing a presence in Earth’s orbit, and perhaps the expanse beyond it, governments and companies aim to ensure prosperity on the ground. […]

The broad goals of enhancing national defence and gaining international prestige remain powerful motivators for reaching skyward. But Asian countries also have specific, diverse and practical ambitions: to develop their own high-speed communications infrastructure, to explore for natural resources, to mitigate natural disasters and to snag satellite launch contracts from other nations.

The FT is right to note that there are many factors motivating the Chinese and Indian space programs, including the nationalistic showmanship that both Xi and Modi enjoy indulging in. But it is the economic considerations that are most crucial. Space races are largely about the development of domestic technologies and industries; programs like India’s Mars mission build public support for IT subsidies and encourage innovation elsewhere in the economy. And so far, the government’s increased space expenditures seem to be paying off for India: the country has lately earned an international reputation as the go-to country for low-cost satellite launches, and its space technologies have spurred useful applications in other sectors.

China, for its part, is surely not thrilled to see another Asian power emerge as a serious competitor in space. Although Chinese capabilities remain superior, the competing technologies derived from the Indian and Chinese space programs are already factoring into their geopolitical rivalry. China, for example, is hoping to kickstart its ambitious “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) infrastructure plan by offering its global satellite-navigation services to the countries in that framework. India, which is developing its own such satellite system, has been skeptical about OBOR and does not want China to take the lead in controlling communications infrastructure throughout Asia.

The rivalry between China and India should not be overstated: this is not a replay of the U.S.-Soviet space race, and increased investments in space are sure to produce tangible benefits for both countries. Still, as both Beijing and New Delhi shoot for the stars to maximize their standing on the ground, space could well become yet another zone of competition between Asia’s two largest powers.

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  • Dhako

    Competition is good. And moreover, putting aside western-based Indian’s media boosters, who are forever indulging their favorite pastiche game of “baiting” India to confront China, the fact of the matter is that India is simply no way able to compete against China, in any sphere of activities you care to mention. And in fact, since, US has nothing to give India apart from hot-air talk of “liberal democracy promotion” at best, and few military hardware (which is most expensive kind) at worse, then China can show India how to become a global manufacturing behemoth of the kind that can lift up the dirt-poor Indians, who are teeming its major cities as indigent beggars. But it seems, that, Mr Modi, would rather posture and preen at the world stage, with the empty slogan of “global India”, as opposed to building decent public toilets for his teeming citizens, who made it a habit of defecating in public for lack of social amenities of that kind to help them with their human needs.

    Moreover, now that, Mr Trump is in power in Washington, and given that Mr Trump is the sort of a guy who would prefer to slit your throat when it comes to dealing with him in any business setting, then, perhaps, the gullible Indians (starting from their Prime-Minster), who think America is their “true friend” (as opposed to seeing how opportunistic the US is at the expense of others) will finally have that “scale of romanticism” fall from their eyes. And in that sense, they may come around to see how they will get a better economical deal from China than they would ever get it from the likes of Mr Trump’s administration, since it has been glaring clear to even the most meanest of intellect, that, all Mr Trump will ever care in his bilateral trade deal with other nations, will be the outcome whereby the other nations will lose and America will win it. And he call that the “Art of the deal”.

    Consequently, lets hope the New-Delhi’s strategical theoreticians will revisit, afresh, their “strategical chess-board” and realize how much of a ground, both in-terms of understanding and in collaboration, with Uncle Sam, they have lost now that Mr Trump is in power; as opposed to Mrs Clinton, who could be rely on to have continued with the strategical play-book of Mr Obama, particularly with his intention of “hugging-closely” the Indian’s elites with hope of convincing them that out of the calculation of their national interests should really have compelled them to “side” with America, in the struggle for “strategical preeminence” in the Asia-Pacific region. Lets see what Mr Modi’s administration now will do, since, we all know what Mr Trump’s bottom-line is in dealing with any nation around the world, be they a friend, or be they a foe.

    • CapitalHawk

      tl; dr

      • Disappeared4x

        yes, but, you missed Dhako’s poop snobbery, very revealing? as to how Chinese sees Indians.

        • Dhako

          It’s not a snooty thing to say, that, India, desperately needs decent toilets for its teeming masses before they worry about given eye-ball to eye-ball competition with the likes of China in outer space. And, in fact, the Chinese always considered India, as their little brother, with a large chip on his shoulders (much like how US sees the likes of Canada, from economical point of view). Hence, it seems the Indian’s elites easily gets impressed by American’s blandishment about how they are the biggest democracy of the world, and therefore, how they should stick with the Uncle Sam’s agenda in the Asia, because of it. Or even better, that, India should stick with the US, because the Silicon Valley will employ the Indian’s IT and software Engineers, and in time, they will get to lead the likes of Microsoft and perhaps Google’s UK branch.

          Consequently, this sort of “limited ambition” is what the Chinese never seems to understand. After all why settle for second place being a mere “hired hands” in places like silicon Valley, when you can create your own Silicon Valley (back in Bangalore of India). Or even create your own E-tech behemoth that can compete with the best the Americans can throw into the market, just like China is doing in some area in the tech industry, and will be doing in the E-Commerce world, like Alibaba is doing now.

          Hence, if only the Indian elites decides that, instead of being contend with the notion of getting a “congratulatory pat” on the back from western’s powers, they should be (like the Chinese) aim for the highest ambition any nation can hope to have. And even if they fail, one can still say, that, it’s better to try and have a go at it and fail in the pursuit of that grandest of ambition than never to have known such lofty national test of trying to be equal to that sort of ambition.

          Subsequently, it seems, that, the Indian elites, will rather break bread with their western’s counterparts and be told what a decent and democratic fellow he is, than to join up with the likes of China (since they both represent an old civilizations) and agree to make the western powers run for their money in competition in every field of human’s endeavor.

          • Disappeared4x

            I have long admired China’s night soil management, but believe that China’s riparian wars against India are payback for the British Robert Fortune’s 19th century “tea theft” from China, bringing Assam and Nilgiri Teas to the equally robust Anglosphere. (that is a subtle joke)

            One final point: India is a democracy, with a demographic diversity, and age profile that bodes well for their future, unlike China, with your One-child male surplus, destined to be cannon fodder, or slave labor building infrastructure outside of China.


            The foundational history of India: 5100 years ago, before the final battle of the Kurukshetra War, also called the Mahabharata War as depicted by the Moghuls, whose culture rivaled Elizabethan England.

            Your comments Dhako? now reverting back to: TL, DR.

  • f1b0nacc1

    Neither of these states are going to be terribly relevant going forward…the real space race is Musk vs. Bezos

    • Jim__L

      Bezos is pretty far behind. It’s mostly a vanity project for him.

      • f1b0nacc1

        Bezos is indeed running behind, but he has the better engine (I like the Merlin, but the BE-4 and its successors are far more interesting and have more room to grow), and a far superior long-term strategy (i.e. he isn’t obsessed with building a colony on Mars, and rather has a fairly solid long-term vision of settling all of space by making it profitable…) As for it being a vanity project, i am not as sure about that as you are, but I will concede that I might be mistaken. In any case, both men are extremely vain, and both have very deep pockets to finance their projects with.

        Lets put it this way….both have achieved more in the last 5 years than NASA, the Chinese, the EUnicks, and India have in the last 25, and the party is only just starting.

        • seattleoutcast

          Lets not also forget Bigelow Habitats.

          • f1b0nacc1

            An excellent point! That may turn out to be one of the biggest difference-makers, since it gives these ‘space trucks’ a destination to go to….

        • MyWord245

          What these two companies are doing is awesome — I don’t think any country/gov’t organization can repeat this. Equally important, neither of them really want to apply for gov’t R&D funding because it slows them down. I wonder what might happen when ultimately they have a human tragedy. Will gov’t come up with regulations that will tie them down?

          • f1b0nacc1

            You raise an excellent point, and one that, most sadly, will likely come soon. Ironically enough, if my hopes for their successes are realized, this test will come even sooner, for any real success must bring with it greater risks and challenges.

            I suspect that there will be calls for tighter regulation, and even calls to bring them under government control. In the long run, I would guess (and of course I cannot prove) that these efforts will come to nothing. Regulation might be attempted, but I simply don’t see any real political will to do so. We haven’t seen calls to shut down exploration in the past when there have been tragedies of this sort, and I rather doubt we will now. The volunteers (and those killed will be volunteers) will no doubt have signed numerous waivers and given sufficient pre-flight statements to absolve the companies of any real liability, and the courts have been reluctant in the extreme to go after experimental aircraft testing in the past. Consider the disaster that Branson’s Spaceship Two crash….there were delays and setbacks as a result, but no serious liability problem and very little extra regulation of any significance.

            Ironically, tonight’s SCOTUS appointment might help the process along. Gorsuch is a known advocate of relitigating the infamous Chevron decision, which would seriously weaken the power of executive agencies. Aside from the pleasure it will give me to watch FG’s head explode when this happens (grin), it should also do a fine job of kneecapping any attempts to seriously impede private spaceflight….

            This is turning out to be a pretty good day….

    • Dhako

      Not true by any stretch of imagination. In fact, the sheer amount of investment that this issue will require going forward, could only be delivered by state with a deep-pocket, such as China, US, and EU. Of course, a targeted commercial exploration is one thing. But a long-term sense of creating industrial-scale level of permanent presence in outer space will require state to do so.

      And you will see that, once the issue of what happens next gets to be entertained, particularly after the initial novelty of space travel becomes passe for most billionaires and Multi-Millionaires in the world. And in here this argument will be apparent when those states who have “agenda” for the outer space as well as the will and finance to back it gets into their stride in leaving behind in the dust, this sort of one-time-wanderers, like Musk and Bezos.

      • seattleoutcast

        I’m quite sure f1b0nacc1 knows a thousand times more than you do on space policy.

  • ——————————

    A brass cow will always smash a paper tiger….

    • Dhako

      They say that an empty Jerry-can makes the loudest noise when others beat it like a drum. And, similarly, it could be argued, that, the Trump’s ill-educated plebs (who seems to be teeming in this site) makes the most the absurd argument when their feeble minds gets agitated with an arguments they are ill-equipped to makes sense off. Hence, you have my forlorn pity in here.

      • seattleoutcast

        The Psychological Projection is strong in this one…

        As one who is familiar with Indian space policy, lets just say getting anything done there will take some time. I wish both countries the best of luck, as the more competition, the better.

      • ——————————

        Looks like Grasshopper got a sting in the scrotum again!

        It’s simply ‘the empty can rattles the loudest’, Grasshopper…so there you go again over-complicating the simple with all that verbal Rube Goldberg…as usual.

        Some of us are busy with our businesses, and our lives, and don’t have the time or the interest to ramble on ad nauseam about articles on the internet.
        Are you extremely bored and have a very small, uneventful, life?…or worse yet, do you get paid to post on the internet?…in which case a large L on the forehead would be in order.

        Talk about ” empty, loudest noise”…have you read your own posts, Grasshopper?

  • Eh, I hope India wins. Elephants are at least grounded in reality. Dragons remain but an outdated myth.

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