Can China Afford its Space Mission?

Zhang Hong from the Guardian comments on China’s spacewalk:

Nobody will doubt the space mission as a demonstration of the country’s overall development. However, the question is whether China can afford such an expensive pride. The former Soviet Union has spent trillions of dollars on a space programme to compete with the US, contributing to the fall of the Soviet Union as its economy was dragged into a black hole by an extraordinary military bill. Since China started this programme, there’s no sign that it will stop any time soon. The undisclosed cost of the Shenzhou programme, normally calculated into the military’s expense, will keep rising in the foreseeable future without any practical benefits. This would likely spark dissatisfaction among lawmakers since China has many other areas hungry for capital, including the rebuilding of the earthquake-hit areas, the anti-poverty strategy in rural areas and the huge hole in the pension system.

During the earthquake, many people criticised the country’s meteorological bureau because it couldn’t provide a clear satellite map days after the disaster. People were asking why the country had spent so much money on the space mission, but couldn’t provide some practical help to normal people.

The government wished to inspire another wave of nationalist pride through the success of Shenzhou VII. But I doubt how effective it is. Yesterday on Chinese search engine Baidu.com, the Shenzhou VII keyword search ranks only seventh, behind the name of a pop singer and a bank rumored to have cash problems, indicating that internet users are more interested in celebrity gossip and concerned with personal finance. Chinese people are getting much more practical. They care more about what matters in their daily lives than what happens in space.

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