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29 April 2023

China’s Space Program Through The Lens of Irregular Warfare Theory [Recommended Innovation Articles (and Commentary) #21]

by :

Original post can be found here:

his article is about China and how their space program is utilizing irregular warfare (or hybrid, asymmetric, conflict continuum, gray zone, or whatever the latest Pentagon buzz term is), and in particular, across the world in key places such as Africa. The article is available for PDF download without any pay wall, and is called “China’s Space Program Through the Lens of Irregular Warfare Theory” by Colonel William Stephens, through the China Aerospace Studies Institute. The HTML for downloads is also here and another great example of the quality research Air University puts out! Link below:

This article provides a good summary of the Chinese space program, and how there are cultural, political, and philosophical tensions between how the Communist regime is framing the space domain and competition with US and allies/partners versus how we tend to frame the challenges. China, as a Sino-Marxist society built upon thousands of years of earlier Chinese philosophy (Daoism, Confucianism), and both of these important distinctions suggest that our western, Westphalian, Newtonian, Clausewitzian frame for understanding international relations and conflict may be insufficient. Stephens mentions the three spirits and how important they are within the Chinese aerospace industry and strategic aims. For those readers that really want to go down that fascinating rabbit hole, check out Jullien’s book “A Treatise for Efficacy” which is a mind-bending study of west versus east in philosophy, culture, ideology, and belief systems. If you want my commentary and thoughts on Jullien, check out my Twitter feed for all the screen shots and posts I did on the book:

One of perhaps 50x Tweets on the Jullien book from my 2023 feed

Stephens offers good summary of how the Chinese space industry is state owned, dual use (military and commercial for everything), and the first part of the paper offers lots of good content on how and why their space efforts are structured as they are (differing from the US and western democracies). Countries around the equator have unique properties for space advantage, and China is seeking them as partners and also pursuing a global narrative of anti-capitalism, anti-Americanism, and general space competition for ground, link, and orbital advantages.

The article offers some compelling takes on the struggle to win Africa, and how the Chinese are working a powerful anti-capitalist, anti-western narrative that could convince African nations to partner with China, and reject American or western alliance offerings. “Politically, China offers a vision of the world where African countries are equal global partners versus being relegated to the role of a “third world country” to be ignored on the global stage.” The PRC is using soft power to attempt to pull African nations into a closer orbit that requires Chinese, not American technology, education, investment, and support.

One interesting aspect of space and Africa has to do with crop moisture and harvesting at peak growth yields. Satellites can provide powerful farming support and information, which China is attempting to provide instead of coming from the US. Indeed, “as of January 2020, fourteen African countries have launched forty-two satellites… and U.S. private companies have assisted in only eight of these programs as a contractor versus as a mutual partner.” China is working to cast a narrative that the US is only interested in profits, they will not share technology freely, and they are only helping African nations when it suits their own needs. China offers a counter for this that would pull Africa into part of the Chinese Silk Road initiative.

This is a short but useful article and for any scenarios involving Africa and space, this would be a great addition to the source list. If you are diving into the PRC global security challenge and ongoing all-domain competition, I recommend this one (and no paywall too) as a great addition to political warfare, Sino-Marxist China research, Africa, space, and global competition. This would be perfect in any PME seminar environment too as a primary or secondary reading topic.

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