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China's rulers look to space to maintain Olympic pride
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Sept 9, 2008

China's rulers are looking to catapult overflowing pride and patriotism from the Beijing Olympics into another stratosphere when the nation's first "taikonaut" walks in space this month.

Amid high inflation and other economic concerns, analysts say China's space programme offers the communist leadership an important platform to maintain a popularity boost given to them by staging a successful Olympics.

"China's space programme reflects the power and legitimacy of the Communist Party," Morris Jones, an Australian space analyst and writer who has closely studied China's space efforts, told AFP.

"They are using manned space exploration as a political demonstration of their legitimacy."

State press reported this week that China's third manned space flight, the Shenzhou VII, will blast off from the deserts of the nation's northwest between September 25 and 30 with three taikonauts on board and a space walk planned.

The mission will keep China in the global media spotlight and showcase the technical prowess of its people, important factors in maintaining the post-Olympic nationalistic glow, Jones said.

"The launch date will take place after the Paralympics end on September 17, further strengthening the Olympic connection," Jones said.

"October 1 is also China's national day, making the space mission a nice bridge between two major nationalistic events."

In 2003, China became the third nation to put a man in space, with Yang Liwei orbiting the earth in a solo mission that ushered in the state's policy of advancing science and technology.

In 2005, two taikonauts manned the five-day Shenzhou VI mission as the nation announced goals to eventually build a manned space station and one day send a man to the moon.

Willy Lam, a Hong Kong-based specialist in Chinese politics, said a successful Shenzhou VII mission would help to distract China's 1.3 billion people from serious economic and social concerns.

The government is trying to wrestle with inflation that hit decade highs early this year, ease jitters over China's stock market that is at a 21-month low and deal with protests that regularly flare around the country over a wide range of social injustices.

"The Shenzhou launch will further consolidate the party's claim that they can get things moving," Lam said.

"The leadership is banking on patriotism and nationalism to pull them through. They want a feel good atmosphere at least until December when they mark the 30th anniversary of the open door policy," he said.

At that time, President Hu Jintao is expected to lead celebrations of the opening and reform programme pushed forward by the late Deng Xiaoping in 1978 that ushered in an unprecedented period of economic growth.

"With the space launch, Hu Jintao wants to show that he is a good successor to Deng Xiaoping and has made achievements that were unthinkable just a few years ago," Lam said.

Beijing-based political analyst Russell Leigh Moses said that while China's leaders were aware of the political benefits of their space programme, a policy debate was simmering over the billions of dollars spent on the endeavour.

"The question that the Chinese leadership is facing is how much do they want to pay for prestige," Moses told AFP.

"There has been some policy uncertainty over how to absorb the costs and expansion of the space programme with future challenges like the Sichuan earthquake, the stock market crash and housing prices."

The May 12 earthquake in southwest China's Sichuan province, which left up to 88,000 people dead or missing, could cost the state up to 245 billion dollars in reconstruction costs.

"There are understandable differences of opinion in the upper echelons on what to expend resources on," Moses said.


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The Politics Of Shenzhou
Geelong, Australia (SPX) Sep 08, 2008
After a few days of rumours and conflicting stories, China has finally announced the launch timeframe for its next manned space mission. The Shenzhou 7 spacecraft will lift off somewhere between September 25 and 30. It will carry three astronauts into orbit, and stage China's first spacewalk. This is an unusual and somewhat unexpected development. For months, we have been expecting and ... read more

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