Tuesday’s launch of the Mars Orbiter from Sriharikota has generated attention and debate in neighbouring China, which failed in its bid to put into orbit a Mars mission just two years ago.
While Chinese officials on Tuesday made clear that they did not subscribe to the narrative of competition in space between India and China, several State media outlets and Chinese bloggers, nevertheless, saw India’s mission as posing a direct challenge to China’s capabilities.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei told reporters China was of the view that the international community should “make joint efforts” to ensure “peace and sustainable development” of outer space.
“Every country has the right to make peaceful explorations and use of outer space,” he said, when asked about India's mission at a regular briefing.
He rejected the suggestion put forward by a reporter that China had apprehensions about India’s space programme. “Political mutual trust between our two countries has increased and mutual cooperation has expanded,” Mr. Hong said.
Others, however, saw India’s ambitions as posing a challenge to China. “With India striving so hard to explore space, China should continue to invest more on space exploration,” wrote blogger Yinxiangzhongguo on the popular Twitter-equivalent Sina Weibo.
The Global Times, a tabloid known for its hard-line views published by the People’s Daily newspaper, said in an editorial India “has an ambitious goal of leading Asia in this area, especially having an advantage over China,” as it attempted to join the elite group of the U.S., Russia and the EU in carrying out Mars exploration.
“As poor as India is, New Delhi managed to carry out its Mars exploration programme with a budget of only $73 million, much less than the spending of China and Japan,” the newspaper said.
“Nonetheless,” it added, “it is not immune from critics at home and abroad, who wonder whether it's worthy for a country where more than 350 million people live on less than $1.25 a day and one third of the population are plagued by power shortages to spend millions of dollars travelling hundreds of millions of kilometers for a few Mars pictures.”
The newspaper drew a parallel between India’s “complicated public opinion environment” and that “which China has to face” as it has invested billions into its space programme.
“China is building its strategic power as well as developing its livelihood. Becoming a great power is required to manage all-round development. That’s why India won’t give up developing space, aircraft carrier and nuclear submarines in spite of its poor conditions,” the newspaper said.
“China must keep alert on populism, avoiding letting it kidnap the national strategic interests. In front of an India that is striving to catch up with China, we have no other choice but to construct our comprehensive strategic power.”
China has itself made great strides in its space programme, most notably going forward with ambitious plans to put up its own space station in 2020. China’s technology is seen as trailing only that of the U.S. and Russia. Earlier this year, China launched its fifth manned space mission and became only the third country to carry out a docking exercise in space, between its spacecraft and an orbiting laboratory module.
China still, some bloggers said, could learn from India’s progress. “India would be way ahead of China if it has the same economic strength,” observed blogger Yuegongjushi on Sina Weibo, pointing out that China’s software industry still lagged behind India’s.
“It is a really good bargain,” added Aneurin. “It took them only 15 months to launch, and the cost is not very high. It’s a miracle.”
(Sisi Tang contributed to reporting).