The Chinese government is investing heavily in reaching the moon and exploiting its resources under the belief that the benefits will enhance the strength of the Chinese state. The lunar effort would ensure that Beijing has the “Mandate of Heaven.”
However, thanks to Donald Trump, NASA’s return-to-the-moon program may just be enough to confound the effort and overturn that mandate.
The Mandate of Heaven is a concept that dates back more than 3,000 years. The idea proposes that only one person could rule China because he had the blessing of a divine force. But, if the ruler were to rule unfairly or incompetently, he would lose that blessing and would be overthrown.
Beijing’s regime is officially atheist. But President Xi Jinping is governed by the concept of the Mandate of Heaven as thoroughly as any emperor by ancient custom. Without the mandate, Xi could not long endure.
China’s moon exploration program would do several things. Not only would it provide a boost to the Chinese economy, but it would gift the Beijing government with prestige, both at home and abroad. The moon would cement the Mandate of Heaven on Xi’s government. The Chinese government’s long-term plan is to become the supreme superpower, on Earth and in space. Domination of the moon would make that plan a reality.
Currently, China is ahead in what has become a de facto race back to the moon. The Chinese have landed two rovers on the lunar surface while no other country has accomplished such a feat in decades. Israel and India have each failed to soft-land on the moon in recent months. So far, so good for the Mandate of Heaven being reaffirmed in the heavens.
NASA, as in the last race to the moon with the Soviet Union, is playing catch up. In 2021, if all goes well, the first two commercial lunar landers will touch down on the moon in 2021 as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. Other, larger lunar landing attempts will follow. Some of the attempts may fail. Yet NASA has good hopes that enough lunar landings will succeed to justify the expense of undertaking them.
A crewed lunar landing in five years is ambitious, to say the least. Congress will have to appropriate a lot of money. Engineers at NASA and its commercial and international partners would have to work diligently and with few if any mistakes to make the deadline.
The first moon landing by Apollo 11 shocked the Soviet Union to its very core, contributing to its downfall 20 years later. An American moon landing in 2024, years ahead of any planned Chinese effort, would cast doubt that the current Beijing regime has the Mandate of Heaven.
As American, allied, and commercial entities start to create a permanent moon base, those doubts will grow. The thought of others doing science and commerce on the lunar surface will prove to be intolerable to the Chinese people. The Chinese government has inculcated them with the notion that China is the supreme civilization, the Middle Kingdom on the planet. A lunar base that was not built by China and does not include the Chinese would prove that notion to be wide of the mark.
Then Xi, who has tried to clamp down on the Chinese people with an iron hand, will lose the Mandate of Heaven. The regime has herded a million Uighurs into reeducation camps. It is constructing the social credit state that would use the internet and surveillance technology to clamp control over all 1.3 billion of its people. China’s foreign policy can be best described as aggressive imperialism.
Without the Mandate of Heaven, the current regime will fade into history. What will follow is difficult to predict. Hopefully the post-Xi regime will govern a country that is a better-behaved member of the world community. It may even treat its citizens with respect and dignity. Then Chinese astronauts could join the international effort to open up the moon, Mars, and beyond.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.