CHINA'S SPACE MONKEY
China on Sept. 29 successfully launched its first space lab, the 8½-ton station called Heavenly Palace-1. By design and mission, the orbiting station is similar to the first space lab orbited by the Soviet Union, known as Salyut and sent aloft 40 years ago. Like Moscow's Salyut, Beijing's Heavenly Palace is experimental in nature and will be used mainly to practice docking skills for future Chinese spacecraft.
However, Chinese Communist Party central authorities turned this event into a national media and propaganda extravaganza. All print and electronic media outlets produced prolonged and saturated coverage of the launch. Most of the ruling Politburo heavyweights were present with Premier Wen Jiaobao at the remote launch site in western China or with the Communist Party chief Hu Jintao at a Beijing space center to watch or give robust speeches on the event.
What was significant was not just the scale of the media orgy, but the cantankerous and even taunting tone of the propaganda blitz.
In addition to the usual party propaganda hailing the launch as yet another landmark achievement of the brilliant leadership of the Communist Party, the script appeared carefully choreographed to express China's dismay against the alleged U.S.-led exclusion of China from taking part in past international space programs.
Even the space lab's name, Heavenly Palace, or Tiangong in Chinese, suggests resentment. Tiangong is associated by many Chinese with a folk rebel — the legendary Monkey King — who created mayhem in the Heavenly Palace to challenge the status quo set by a hegemonic authority.
The most bizarre and clearest demonstration of this taunting spirit surfaced 15 minutes before liftoff. As hundreds of millions of Chinese watched, Chinese Central TV, tightly controlled by the state and no doubt with approval from higher authority, broadcast a 90-second digital illustration and computer animation of the Heavenly Palace space program. It included 70 seconds of "America the Beautiful," one of the United States' most patriotic songs after the national anthem, as background music for the animation. The musical juxtaposition was done in the same spirit as Peter Tchaikovsky's insertion of "La Marseillaise," the French national anthem, in his triumphant 1812 Overture celebrating the defeat of the hegemonic Napoleon at the hands of the great Russian motherland.
CHINA SET FOR 2008 ATTACK
One of China's most bombastic military leaders, People's Liberation Army (PLA) Maj. Gen. Luo Yuan, last week disclosed that the PLA was ready to attack Taiwan in 2008.
Gen. Luo made the comments during a major speech on the PLA's military modernization in Shanghai on Sept. 25. He is a prominent member of the privileged offspring of senior communist leaders known as princelings and son of Luo Qingchang, Mao Zedong's foreign espionage chief.
The Shanghai-based party newspaper Wenhui published a transcript of the general's talk last week. In it, Gen. Luo quotes Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie as claiming that "our military has possessed basically all the weapons and military equipment the leading Western nations have."
"Moreover, our military has created a complete production chain, capable of conducting R&D, equipping, maintenance and repair, and lifetime management," Gen. Luo quoted Gen. Liang as saying. "Few countries in the world can boast these capabilities."
Among the advanced weapons systems included were KJ-2000 airborne warning and control aircraft, DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missiles, Type 99G tanks, J-10 jet fighters and Type 04 armored personnel carriers as examples of the Chinese military's "leapfrog" weapons advances.
However, the most surprising revelation by Gen. Luo was the disclosure that the PLA was ready to attack Taiwan in 2008, most likely if the presidential candidate for the more indigenous of Taiwan's two political parties, the Democratic Progressive Party's Frank Hsieh Chang-ting, won the presidency in that year's election.
"In 2007 and 2008," Gen. Luo said, "our military was prepared for the worst-case scenario to deal with the complicated election situation in Taiwan. But [after the election result was declared] cross-strait relations improved, we could not use all the weapons [listed above] in the southeastern coast." Pro-unification candidate Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang party and current president, won the election with 58 percent of the votes.
Taiwan's political status, or whether Taiwan should declare formal independence —key red lines for Beijing taking military action — were not even the focus of the 2008 campaign rhetoric. Rather, economic issues and government corruption were the main points of debate.
• Miles Yu's column appears Thursdays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.