A Beidou navigation satellite was successfully launched by a long March 3b carrier rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China’s Sichuan province on November 5, 2019.
Costfoto | Barcroft Media | Getty Images
China is gearing up to send the last satellite to space, a move that will complete a global navigation network and wean the country off U.S. technology in this area.
It’s a significant development because it will ensure China’s military systems will remain online in the event of a conflict with the U.S., but it’s also part of Beijing’s push to increase its technological influence overseas, experts told CNBC.
China’s network, known as Beidou, consists of 30 satellites which are key for navigation or even messaging. It’s a rival to the U.S. government-owned Global Positioning System (GPS).
“The (Chinese) military now has a system it can use independent of the U.S. GPS system,” Andrew Dempster, director of the Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research, told CNBC.
The fear is that if there was a sustained conflict between the U.S. and China, GPS — or the satellite-based navigation system — could be cut off from the Chinese.
“The most profound impact is that it is now independent. It (China) has now got a system that is resilient and can be used in times of conflict,” Christopher Newman, professor of space law and policy at Northumbria University in the U.K., told CNBC.
China was set to launch the last satellite this week but it was postponed because of “technical issues,” according to Beidou’s official website.
Plans for China’s own system took shape in the late 1990s and the first version of Beidou was in service by 2000, providing coverage for satellite-based services to China.
The second iteration was completed by 2012 and provided services to the Asia Pacific region. This third version, when completed, will mean Beidou has global coverage.
The eventual completion of Beidou is part of China’s global push when it comes to technology.
“The Beidou network is emblematic of China’s grand ambitions in respect to foreign policy. They’re taking a much more global view,” Newman said.
He said the Beidou is linked to China’s Belt and Road Initiative — a massive infrastructure project and foreign policy plan that links several continents through railways, roads and shipping routes. As part of that, many countries have borrowed large sums of money from China, a move Newman says shows the increasing reliance on Chinese debt.
“Imagine if that is extended to technical and GPS-related reliance. It just increases China’s influence throughout,” Newman said.
Countries like Thailand and Pakistan are already using the Beidou system for various uses. Over half of countries in the world are using the network, claimed Yang Changfeng, chief designer of Beidou, according to state-backed media Xinhua.