Russia Will Help China Become Major Space Power

Russia will share key space technologies with China. This will create a triangle of power in the global space industry in which Russia will have access to both competing superpowers.

In 1959 Nikita Khrushchev, then the head of the Soviet state, somewhat unexpectedly withdrew Russia’s help to China in the development of nuclear weapons. Thousands of Russian specialists returned to the USSR and many Chinese students studying nuclear physics at Russia’s best universities went home.

This, however, did not stop China from becoming a nuclear power but relations between the two communist states soured.

The move was necessitated by the ongoing negotiations with the United States seeking to curtail the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

The Soviet Union also did not consider China to be a responsible player in the international arena. The critical response of Chinese leaders to the anti-Stalin rhetoric of the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party and the course adopted by the USSR for peaceful coexistence with the West was perceived as a sign of the immaturity of the Chinese leadership.

A lot has changed since then. The Soviet Union does not exist and Russia is no longer China’s elder brother.

And although Russia has yet to fully comprehend the fact that it now borders a superpower, the Russians seem to understand where the main traps lie. The trap is to see China as a rival and plunge into self-pity for becoming a resource base for what used to be Russia’s younger brother.

Russians are not afraid of China. On the contrary, they welcome her growth because they see it as a guarantee of the multipolarity of the world. The goal, therefore, is not to contain China but to become part of her success.

A few days ago NPO Energomash, the key player of the Russian space industry, announced the decision to sell the People’s Republic of China the technology for the production of heavy rocket engines.

So far, Russia refused to share the expertise with China. Although this decision is yet to be approved by the government, everything points to a breakthrough.

The head of Energomash Igor Arbuzov .

According to him, Russia and China are discussing development of liquid rocket engines on oxygen-kerosene, oxygen-hydrogen and oxygen-methane.

He reminded that in November, at the International Aviation and Space Exhibition in Zhuhai NPO Energomash and China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation signed a protocol of cooperation.

According to Arbuzov, the Chinese “are expressing strong interest” in the engineering expertise “to create documentation for a 480-ton engine” needed for super-heavy launch vehicles.

“We will build our cooperation in such a way that it would be absolutely beneficial for both parties and at the same time not threaten the national interests and interests of the enterprise,” he said.

It is remarkable, though, that only two weeks earlier Mr. Arbuzov claimed that Energomash would not transfer of the technology to China. He said that although the sale of technology is a promising area of cooperation it can work “in other areas and definitely not in the rocket engine industry”.

Russia, like other countries, is cautious about technological cooperation with China which is known for somewhat extravagant attitude to foreign expertise.

Russia has some rather unfortunate experience here.

A significant part of the Chinese Air Force is made up of Chinese copies of the Soviet MiGs. Chinese fighter J-11B was created on the basis of the Russian Su-27SK fighter. The Chinese supplied the fighter with an engine of its own design, replaced some of its electronic equipment and then brought it to the arms market as a cheap version of the Russian original.

It is therefore clear that the decision to transfer such important technologies has been made not by Mr Arbuzov but by the Kremlin and reflects Russia’s strategic position for the years ahead.

Negotiations with China over the joint development of engines have been going on for several years. The cooperation will be wide and substantive. Beijing needs technology for heavy liquid rocket engines and Moscow needs Chinese know-how on electronic components.

Yet from Kremlin’s perspective it is not about getting access to Chinese technology or Chinese money. The idea is to create a Russian-Chinese space program to counterbalance the US-Russia cooperation.

It will require a super-heavy launch vehicle. At the moment only the United States has such rocket, Falcon Heavy, which capable of carrying more than 50 tons of cargo. It delivers cargo to the International Space Station, which is a Russian-American project where China does not take part. At the time, it was Russia who refused to accept China into the project.

Russian help to China will create a triangle of power in the global space industry in which Russia will have access to both competing superpowers.

Published: December 21, 2018