China’s space program took a sudden turn towards more secrecy following the rise of Xi Jinping to the Presidency of China.
Anyone who watches China’s space program is well aware of the nation’s information policies. China has never been as open as we would like. We can understand that China operates under a different political system to other nations, and their space program is also subject to tight veils of secrecy.
Nevertheless, we have grown used to mining information from the trickle of reports and rumours that are released through China’s state media and other channels. Working out the course of events in China’s space program is like detective work.
Conclusions must be drawn from scant evidence and the stonewalling of those who are being investigated. But China has always given us a fair amount of information in the week leading up to a major mission.
Faced with such difficulties, we have long hoped that things would change. Now they have. Unfortunately, things seem to have changed for the worse. This analyst documented that reportage on China’s space program took a sudden turn towards more secrecy following the rise of Xi Jinping to the Presidency of China.
This produced a dramatic difference in coverage between the pre-Xi flight of Shenzhou 9 and the post-Xi flight of Shenzhou 10. We didn’t get as much coverage as we wanted, nor as much as we had received for previous flights. We hoped that this situation would change as China’s new leadership settled down.
The recent policies concerning China’s upcoming lunar test launch are a shocking testimony to a new “dark age” of media coverage for the Chinese space program. Even less has been said about this flight in the lead-up to launch than for any comparable mission.
This is a major achievement for China. Only two other nations have recovered a spacecraft from the Moon. Unfortunately, reportage and imagery have been tighter than for any previous lunar launch.
China may be seeking to control the flow of “state secrets” to outsiders. China could also want to avoid generating too much interest in a lunar program that was partially tainted by the problems experienced by the Yutu lunar rover.
But this is counter-productive. The Chinese space program is an outstanding triumph for this nation, and matched by so few. Greater publicity would be in China’s best interests. It would also promote greater international co-operation in space, which is something China apparently wants.
With this excessively high level of secrecy, China misses out on these gains, and space enthusiasts also miss out on the fun. Nobody wins in this new “dark age”. Not even China.