China recently sent back photos from the moon after the first soft landing on its surface in nearly forty years. The success of China's Chang'e 3 moon mission landing has been lauded by the establishment in China, and must be seen as a huge technological achievement, becoming the third nation in history to land a vessel on the surface of the moon. But it is the symbolic intent behind this act, and the historical context of what a moon landing represents, which should be considered the significant aspect of this event.
The space race between the United States and the Soviet Union was symptomatic of the bitter and almost deadly rivalry that occurred between the two nations during the so-called Cold War. At this time, any possible source of propaganda that could be seized upon was chased relentlessly as the two nations sought to assert in the public mind the notion of their own primacy.
Though it could certainly be argued that some good comes of space programmes, it is the propaganda element which is of most interest to China as they pursue this programme. This is a message to the rest of the world that the East Asian nation is a coming superpower in technology terms; after all, the only two nations to previously achieve this were the archetypal superpowers.
Many have, quite rightly, asserted that the 21st century will be the century of China, and it is certainly hard to conceive a major nation which hasn't sought political and economic hegemony when presented with the opportunity to do so. And the raw data indicates that there is an extremely fertile climate for China to become the world's definitive superpower.
On 16th June, 2009, in Yekaterinburg, Russia the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India and China met for a conference that is now referred to as the BRIC summit. The acronym BRIC was first used in a Goldman Sachs thesis projecting that the economic potential of the nations which comprise the BRIC gathering - Brazil, Russia, India, China and later South Africa - is such that they will be ranked as four of the five most dominant economies in the world by the year 2050. The report infamously predicted that China would be the world's biggest economy by 2040, which now seems an incredibly conservative estimate, with a date sometime this decade far more likely.
While the world's previously most powerful nation, the Unites States, is now the biggest debtor nation in history, China was until recently the world's biggest creditor (having recently been overtaken by Germany). China holds huge amounts of American treasury bonds, and potentially holds a significant sword of Damocles over the country which previously considered itself an unchallengeable superpower. Meanwhile, China has been buying up infrastructure all over the nations which are part of the beleaguered European Union experiment.
China is a massive nation of 1 billion people, and soon to be the biggest English speaking nation in the world. In decades to come we may come to look back on the Chinese moon landing as the moment when the old Anglo-American / EU-NATO world order which has dominated the 20th century begun to be ushered to one side.
More articles from Christopher Morris: