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China’s Looming Land Grab in Outer Space

HONG KONG—Given its vast territorial ambitions that span global waters from the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean to the Arctic, it really should come as no surprise that the Chinese Communist Party is also aiming upward, far beyond the confines of the Blue Planet.

Five years ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping promised the nation that China will send a taikonaut to the moon by the 2030s. (So far, 11 have flown into space.)  As with the other policies that Xi has shaped as his forthcoming legacy, there has been a strict follow-through, with the nation’s aerospace experts improving their craft at dizzying speed.

There is one Party official who is extremely outspoken about China’s astral aspirations: Ye Peijian is a 73-year-old aerospace engineer and head of the Chinese lunar exploration program. While fielding scripted questions from a reporter at the CCP’s annual plenary sessions in Beijing last year, he left quite an impression. When asked why China is going to the moon, Ye said, “The universe is an ocean, the moon is the Diaoyu Islands, Mars is Huangyan Island. If we don’t go there now even though we’re capable of doing so, then we will be blamed by our descendants. If others go there, then they will take over, and you won’t be able to go even if you want to. This is reason enough.”

“It’s a move to wrest control of new lands from other nations, and to write the histories of those territories before others can.”

Responses like Ye’s are part explainer, part propaganda, all dog whistle. The Diaoyu Islands, as China calls them, are an uninhabited 1,700 acres that are known as Senkaku in Japan, and sovereignty over these small patches of bare rock has been a flashpoint between the two nations for decades. In the same vein, Huangyan refers to Scarborough Shoal, a reef in the South China Sea that is also claimed by Taiwan and the Philippines. By invoking the names of these contested outposts, Ye delivered a crystal-clear message that left no room for misunderstanding among a domestic audience. For Ye and the CCP, going to space isn’t just a matter of scientific achievement or national pride. It’s a move to wrest control of new lands from other nations, and to write the histories of those territories before others can.

Every so often, we see that Donald Trump’s head is in the stars as well. He went off-script recently to talk impromptu about the creation of a “Space Force,” and in his inaugural address he said that the United States will “unlock the mysteries of space” without giving clear direction for NASA. But the CCP already has shaped a consistent space exploration program. In 2015, the Chinese National Space Administration conducted 19 successful launch missions, with 21 to follow in 2016, just one short of the United States.

There have been setbacks for Beijing’s aerospace program. Although there were around 30 launches scheduled for 2017, a failed test of the Long March 5 heavy-lift rocket froze progress for nearly three months. But CNSA seems to be back with a vengeance, aiming to clear that backlog and land a rover on the far side of the moon by the end of 2018. The plan is to reach farther in 2020, and land a rover on Mars—a feat that only the United States has accomplished so far.

Trump’s grandstanding about a Space Force comes months after tough battles were fought to maintain funding for peaceful space exploration and related research in the 2018 fiscal year. But he does seem to see the military potential. The White House has released an America First National Space Strategy, in which the Oval Office has interpreted space as a “warfighting domain.”

The trillion-dollar question is: does Beijing see it the same way?

The Chinese space program is opaque, but it fits with Xi’s policy of “civil military fusion,” which translates cutting-edge technological research into military power and modernization of the People’s Liberation Army, much the way the American military often depends on civilian contractors in the defense industry. This aligns with the plan of “Made in China 2025,” which has been at the heart of U.S.-China trade war discussions, as the CCP attempts to bolster multifarious industries at home and dilute its reliance on other nations. The key consequence will be for the People’s Liberation Army to dominate emerging technologies in China, including those related to maintaining a presence in space.

Chinese political analysts have shared impressions that America has been trying to lure China into a space and arms race, similar to competition with the USSR during the Cold War. Indeed, the People’s Republic is still playing catch-up to the U.S. Yet its achievements already are playing into Beijing’s geopolitical ambitions on our planet. Satellites for a navigation system called Beidou are being carried by China’s frequently launched spacecraft, and are deployed as a homegrown version of America’s global positioning system. More noteworthy is the integration of quantum cryptography into the Micius satellite, meant to test a communication channel that is designed to be much harder to crack than existing means.

So the race is on, not only between the U.S. and China, but also involving India (for Mars), South Korea (for rocketry advancements), and Japan (for the moon). The prize for the CCP isn’t only the sky as Ye Peijian sees it, but also, of course, the oceans and continents where China is projecting its power with land grabs near and far.




Havana Syndrome again? CIA officers are mowed down by a mysterious disease

A CIA officer in Moscow experienced symptoms of the so-called “Havana syndrome” in 2017. This became known to The New York Times with reference to sources in diplomatic circles.

CIA officer Mark Polimepulos, who helped lead covert operations in Russia and Europe, complained about the manifestation of mysterious symptoms. According to the newspaper, in December 2017, he felt severe dizziness, which later developed into a prolonged migraine, forcing him to retire. At that time, Polymerpoulos was 48 years old.

It is noted that such a case was not the only one. Similar symptoms were experienced by the staff of the American ambassadors in Cuba and China in 2016-2018. However, the exact number of cases and the place where this happened is not named. It is alleged that the US diplomats have tried to influence in a similar way around the world.

At the same time, the US State Department was unable to establish an unambiguous reason that caused the “Havana syndrome.” Among other things, it was assumed that the diplomats may have been exposed to an unidentified sound effect.

In 2017, it was reported that, beginning in late 2016, American diplomatic officials and their relatives in Cuba began to complain of symptoms such as hearing loss, nausea, headaches and balance disorder. 

The Associated Press received audio footage of the attack and described the harassing sounds as “the high-pitched sound of crickets combined with fingernails scratching on a board.” Then the American government suggested that Russia or China could be the culprit.

Many victims are still undergoing rehabilitation. Specialists from the University of Pennsylvania performed magnetic resonance imaging and revealed visible changes in the structure of the brain in the diplomatic missions.

Differences were found in 23 men and 17 women who complained of health problems while on diplomatic duties in Havana. Scientists have yet to figure out what causes the unusual symptoms.

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How Russia and the United States nearly started a nuclear war in 1995

The Norwegian meteorological rocket incident remains the only time in history that the Russian president has activated his nuclear briefcase.

On January 25, 1995, Doomsday could have come in the world: the Russian Federation was preparing to launch a nuclear strike on the United States. How did it come about that the states that left the confrontation of the Cold War in the past and had just normalized relations with each other found themselves on the verge of mutual destruction?

The beginning of the war?

The cause of the crisis was an ordinary Norwegian meteorological rocket. Its launch from the small island of Anneia at 7 am local time (10 am Moscow time) towards Spitsbergen caused a stir in Russia. 

Black Brant XII.

Black Brant XII. Legion Media / ZUMA Press

Equipped with scientific equipment to study the aurora borealis, the Black Brant XII was similar in size to the nuclear-powered American Trident D-5 ballistic missile, intended for launch from submarines. In addition, it flew along a trajectory along which, as the Russian Defense Ministry believed, American missiles would fly in the event of a nuclear war. 

In December 1994, Norway informed 28 states, including Russia, about the planned launch, but did not give a specific date, limiting itself to specifying the period: from January 15 to February 10 of the next year. Due to bureaucratic delays, this information did not reach the Russian Missile Warning System, which sounded the alarm.

Decisive minutes

An emergency meeting with the country’s top political and military leadership was convened in the Kremlin. Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, Chief of the General Staff Mikhail Kolesnikov and President of the Russian Federation (as Supreme Commander-in-Chief) Boris Yeltsin had three strategic missile forces control terminals activated – the so-called nuclear suitcases.

Vladimir Sayapin / TASS

The military believed the lone missile could have been fired to create an electromagnetic pulse that knocked out Russian radars and communications systems. Following it, a massive blow could be expected.

For several tense minutes, as leaders watched it flight, it was decided whether Russia would launch a nuclear strike against the United States. 

“Little is known today about what Yeltsin said at the time, given that it could have been some of the most dangerous moments in the entire history of the nuclear era,” The Washington Post journalist, David Hoffman wrote three years after the incident : “They make it clear that the Cold War nuclear readiness system continues to operate, and how catastrophic its consequences could be, despite the fact that the feud between the great powers is already over.”   

The situation was discharged only when it became clear that the rocket had gone towards Spitsbergen (not far from which it fell into the ocean). The nuclear cases have been deactivated. Russian President Boris Yeltsin (center) and Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev (right).

Russian President Boris Yeltsin (center) and Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev (right). Igor Mikhalev / Sputnik

The incident with bringing Russia’s Strategic Nuclear Forces to combat readiness, soon became the property of the world community. When, four years later, the Norwegians were about to repeat their launch of Black Brant XII and reported this to the Russian Foreign Ministry, the US additionally warned all key Russian military departments about it through their channels. As a result, this time there were no unpleasant surprises. 


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Germany conducted exercises in case of nuclear war

Bundeswehr / Birthe Brechters

The Bundeswehr with partners in the North Atlantic Alliance ( NATO) trained in operations in a nuclear war.

The German army, together with Italian, Belgian and Dutch colleagues, conducted exercises in the event of a conflict with the use of nuclear weapons.

The location of the exercise “Steadfest Noon” was chosen airbase “Nörfenich”, where the tactical squadron of the Luftwaffe 31 “Boelcke” is located. Together with the Luftwaffe of the Bundeswehr, the air forces of other NATO countries, in particular, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium, took part in the exercises.

According to a report by Bild, the exercise scenario involved training procedures for safely removing nuclear weapons from storage, delivering ammunition and installing them on aircraft. The training flights took place without nuclear weapons, and in parallel with the aviation exercises at the Büchel airbase, where the tactical squadron of the Luftwaffe 51 Immelman is located, the Resilient Guard air defense systems were trained to protect the airfield from air attacks.

The training sites for the Luftwaffe of the Bundeswehr were not chosen by chance, since the Nörfenich airbase is a reserve storage site for the B61, a hydrogen bomb that forms the basis of nuclear weapons of the US strategic nuclear forces. 

Some of this ammunition is stationed at NATO bases in Europe. The exact number of hydrogen bombs that are stored at European sites and which ones are not reported. In Europe, the B61 is carried by Panavia Tornado fighter-bombers (pictured) and General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon fighters.

Recall that the B61 thermonuclear bomb is the main weapon of the US strategic nuclear forces, although it entered service in 1968. Since 2012, a new guided version of the B61-12 has been under development, which will replace all B61 and B83 bombs that have been in service since 1983. It can be used both on strategic bombers and tactical aircraft. About two billion dollars were spent on the development of the 12th modification of the aerial bomb.

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