WChina Beginning construction of its first overseas military outpost – a naval base in Djibouti – the US and its allies are stunned. The facility, which opened in 2017, is just 13 kilometers (8 miles) from the largest US base in Africa. France, Japan and Italy also have bases there. Soon the Americans accused the Chinese military of firing lasers at their pilots. China has complained that Western planes fly over its outposts for filming.
Since then, the friction has turned into a reluctant coexistence in the former French colony not much bigger than New Jersey. But a new threat to that precarious balance emerged with the Jan. 9 announcement that a Hong Kong-based company linked to Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei would build and operate a spaceport covering at least 10 square kilometers (four square miles) . in Djibouti.
Hong Kong Aerospace Science and Technology Group Co Ltd said the facility will include seven launch pads and three rocket test stands (Hong Kong Air Transport Group), which signed a memorandum of understanding for the project with the Djibouti government and a Chinese company operating a special economic zone in Djibouti. In March, they will sign a deal that will allow for the construction of power stations, water plants, roads and seaports, they said. Hong Kong Air Transport Group.
Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh tweeted that the $1 billion spaceport would take five years to build and be handed over to the government after 30 years. He has long sought to boost the economy with Chinese-funded infrastructure projects. But returns have been lower than expected, and the risk of Djibouti’s recent debt woes is high.
If completed, the spaceport would give Djibouti a piece of the multibillion-dollar global space industry. There are about two dozen active spaceports around the world. Africa has none: the French abandoned their satellite in Algeria after Algeria gained independence in 1962, while Italy has stopped using satellites in Kenya since joining the European Space Agency.
Djibouti has a lot to offer. It’s not far from the equator, where Earth spins fastest, and powers the rocket. Access to sea will allow customers to import rockets and other bulky equipment by ship. They can also be launched eastward across the ocean, taking advantage of the Earth’s rotation while minimizing risk to people in surrounding areas.
There are also disadvantages. Shipping rockets and satellites around the world is costly and could face regulatory hurdles. The United States in particular has difficulty exporting space-related equipment. Djibouti’s military base and nearby civil conflict complicate its geopolitical environment. Several other countries are planning to build new spaceports in the coming years.
But for China, which wants to develop a private space industry to rival the United States, Djibouti offers an alternative to the four launch sites on its own soil (one of which is shown on the previous page). These are operating at full capacity, said Thomas Roberts, author of a report on spaceports at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. He said the Djibouti spaceport could ease congestion but was more likely to serve as a backup to China’s Wenchang launch site, which is closest to the equator. He noted that China has not sent rockets abroad before, but it would not be the first space power to do so.
Hong Kong Air Transport GroupIts main business includes designing, building, launching and controlling satellites, the company said, citing bottlenecks at China’s spaceport as the main reason for building satellites in Djibouti. The company had previously relied on Chinese rockets; it did not say whether it planned to use them in Djibouti. It declined to elaborate on its announcement.
Either way, the deal is likely to come under scrutiny by U.S. and allied officials. They have long worried about the role of the People’s Liberation Army (People’s Liberation Army) in China’s space industry, in recent years they have tracked China’s efforts to build space-related facilities in countries participating in its “Belt and Road” infrastructure plan.
Listed in Hong Kong Hong Kong Air Transport Group It is a private company but works closely with the state-run China Great Wall Industry Corporation, which handles the continent’s international space operations. Hong Kong Air Transport GroupIts executives include former Hong Kong officials. One of them was the founding chief executive of the China-US Exchange Foundation, which U.S. officials believe is a tool of Chinese political influence.
Hong Kong Air Transport Group Also working with Huawei, whose products the U.S. has banned domestically and urging allies to ditch mobile networks, claiming it is incompatible with People’s Liberation Army And possibly involved in espionage (a claim Huawei denies).one Hong Kong Air Transport Group The project is a constellation of about 100 remote sensing satellites, 10 of which are said to be in orbit. Partnering with Huawei, this will provide “smart cities” and other services in southern China. Hong Kong Air Transport Group There was also talk of building a similar global service. What role Djibouti may play is unclear, but some of its foreign residents will be keen to learn more. ■
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