China launched its very first satellite, the first object to be sent to space almost half a century ago.
The Belt & Road Initiative, also known as One Belt One Road was primarily a land based Silk Road Economic Belt. However, the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road focused on expanding into orbit. In China’s passionate plans under the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI), satellites will become a central part in the global spanning infrastructural push.
China’s leader, Xi Jinping in his special project of the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) hopes to build trillions of dollars of infrastructure from Asia to Africa to Europe and along sea routes as well. The initiative involves around 70 nations which entail massive spending, as well as lending by China on railroads, ports, energy products, highways, and expanding to satellite launches.
In late 2016, China’s top policy planners as well as its defence technology development agency, collaborated and jointly laid out how the country sees the space component of its infrastructure push. China went on to state that it wants to bring about the use of satellites for communication, navigation, and remote sensing to build a “Belt & Road spatial Information Corridor.”
The state-directed plan aspires to promote the Beidou satellite network, which encourages exports of mobiles supporting the Beidou system. At the heart of the Space Silk Road, BRI States would subscribe to use China’s Beidou satellites for precision navigation and timing services.
China had 23 operating satellites in orbit in 2016, and aims to continue expanding. Key enabling technologies such as: Precision navigation and timing (PNT) satellites like Beidou focus on driving local economies and coordinating communications.
Therefore, the 2016, Chinese White Paper on Space activities went on to specifically mention the major concept of a Space Silk Road, declaring plans to establish a ‘Belt & Road Initiative Space Information Corridor’, which would include earth observation, communications and broadcasting, navigation and positioning, and other types of satellite-related development; ground and application system construction; and application product development.
The Document also states that with sustained efforts in building the Beidou global system, the plan is to start providing basic services to countries along the Silk Road Economic Belt a 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road in 2018 and to form a network consisting of 35 satellites for global services by 2020 to provide all clients with more accurate and more reliable services through advancing the ground-based and satellite-based augmentation systems in an integrated way.
By signing up for the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) “Space Information Corridor”, the B.R.I states would be highly dependent on Chinese provided space services. Chinese provision of satellite communications, weather monitoring and earth observation add to this vision for a Space Silk Road that over arches and underpins the Belt & Road Initiative.
This initiative gives Beijing a special power to influence policy choices of the states involved since it would control the vital space capabilities that sustains their economic growth. Private firms have also started seeking opportunities through the Belt & Road Initiative.
More than 60 Chinese private firms have entered China’s space business since 2015, when the government began encouraging private capital in the heavily state-controlled sector, among them was the Shenzhen-listed hardware maker Tatwah Smarttech.
Tatwah is betting big on telecommunication services through its recent acquisition of satellite operators. The company brands its satellite business as services for BRI “Because BRI is bringing facilities and infrastructure to the Countries, people generally hold a nice attitude when you brand yourself with BRI,” Wang Zhongmin, satellite business director for Tatwah.
However, a Chinese Space Silk Road adds a new layer of Chinese power and control over most of Eurasia. This power goes unchallenged ensuring that Beijing was the sole provider of space services to BRI States, keeping the Western companies out of this Initiative.
This meant complete control by the Chinese administration of BRI economies. According to the strategist that’s never going to be a good outcome for the US in its broader competition with China for strategic primacy in Asia. It’s also completely unnecessary given the rapidly changing nature of the Global Space Industry.