Recently I spotting an interesting article from the South China Morning Post entitled “Why China’s Aerospace experts have become Xi Jinping’s new political elite.”
I found this article to be interesting because of a few reasons. First, its not everyday that you see senior space leaders for any government becoming governors or other highly placed government officials. It has happened in onesie–twosies such as Canadian Marc Garneau (Government minister), U.S. Astronaut Harrison Schmidt (U.S. Senator), India’s Kalam (President of India)…but rarely do you see what appears to be several rise into positions of importance outside of government space agencies (such as Charlie Bolden, Kevin Chilton, among others). Second, I thought it was interesting how the article viewed the reason why so many managers of Chinese space efforts have been moved up by Xi-it was due to their lack of corruption and integrity, and because the “aerospace industry” like oil before it have “ideological” and “patriotic” significance to the Chinese people via the Chinese Communist Party. So in response to this article and their thoughts, I thought I would provide my views on this and some thoughts they left out….
First, as I have written here before, we need to be careful when calling what the Chinese do in space as an “industry” or “commercial sector”. It is not at all the same thing as what we call industry and commercial sector in America. Their industry is tightly monitored by the CCP and space itself has strong ties and is overseen by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA_. While its true there are several other government offices and entities, all fall under the State Council and other bodies that are ultimately led by Xi Jinping himself.
Second, its important to note, as many China scholars and observers have noted before, that just because the CCP uses “corruption” as means to dismiss a government official, either highly placed or a provincial governor like some of these were, that corruption has been a major publicity tool Xi has used to take out people that may be threats to the party or to key party leaders. The tale of the “princelings” is instructive as context here.
Third, it is also important to note that unlike many people in the West that believe the future of space development and exploration is through commercial means, this is not exactly how it is viewed in places like China. When you have connections and blurs between the “spirit of aerospace” and the “spirit of the Long March”, one can see that flags and footprints are not passé’, but very much alive and well in places like China. We should do well to remember that space is not just a cool thing to do, or something to help develop “humanity”, but has clear geopolitical and strategic implications to nations such as ours. China understands this.
In my opinion, the reason Xi has trusted so many of the space leaders in China for higher positions, is they understand order and sequence and high profile decision-making. Order and sequence in that they have worked directly for national level efforts tied to the various Five Year Plans coming out of the Party and have understood the importance of keeping within that plan and achieving continued prestige and success-for China and for the CCP. Because they are innovative, within the bounds given them, and are able to stick to the plan and not try to deviate from that plan (using the resources given by the Party and move ahead with the Party leadership), they are less likely to go rogue and disrupt the central planning efforts in the provinces where there have been all sorts of trouble in recent years.
I also think that these guys are looking at this as an opportunity for increased influence for themselves as they are being moved up the ladder from simply managing space programs and production lines, to whole segments of society. The Chinese have stated how space is a huge part of the long term vision for Chinese society, including the use of energy resources from and through space to power the future development of China and its growing leadership and rise. So these people share the vision as much as the values of the Party moving ahead.
So that is my view…to be frank, I am going off memory on some of these things, so its not very detailed or cited, but this is something worth looking into and not glossing over. I think its more of a big deal than simply replacing corrupt bureaucrats.