Once upon a time, humanity, gazing at the starry sky and envisioning gods and heroes in the shapes of planets and constellations, assigned them names. With the advancement of thought and the invention of mechanisms, primitive by today’s standards, humanity began to study space and develop the first hypotheses about the formation of the universe and its myriad stars. Over time, with the accumulation of knowledge and the invention of telescopes, the dream of space travel emerged.


Today, the study of space and the universe has evolved into a “space race,” where major global and regional powers conduct their space programs to achieve objectives known only to them, effectively turning space, like Earth, into an arena of competition. While Earth is our common home in the present, space represents our shared home in the future. Understanding this is crucial for the collective fate of humanity. In this context, the concept of forming a “community with a shared future for mankind,” proposed by the Chinese leadership, gains significant global importance. Space holds both opportunities and dangers that humanity can only address through joint efforts.


“The Community of the Common Destiny of Humanity” carries profound philosophical meaning. It is essential to understand it not only as a call from Beijing to unite a community of cooperative nations and overcome historical, cultural, geopolitical, and institutional differences but also as a response to the challenges and threats humanity faces today and in the future on a planetary scale. Space, both near and far, is one such challenge.


According to ancient Chinese philosophy, “space” plays a vital role in the worldview of the inhabitants of the Middle Kingdom. The dichotomy between materiality and spirituality is foreign to Chinese culture. The idea of a person as a “thing” coexists harmoniously with the recognition of a person’s special place in the universe. In Chinese tradition, a person is viewed as one of the beings of the cosmos, yet also stands out and is equated with the dominant forces of the universe: Heaven and Earth. This forms a universal cosmic triad (san tsai) – Heaven, Earth, and Man, in which Man connects and binds Heaven and Earth. As a unifying principle, Man is a microcosm (“little Heaven and Earth” – xiau tian-di), reflecting all the diversity of nature and encompassing it. Being a microcosm, a person has the ability to model the Universe, generating various types of microcosms” (Torchinov E.A., The Path of Philosophy of East and West: Knowledge of the Beyond, St. Petersburg: Palmira Publishing House LLC, Book on Demand LLC, 2017, p. 91).


Therefore, the emergence of China as a space power should not come as a surprise. Five decades ago, Soviet media mocked China’s prospects for technical development, depicting a cartoon of one hundred million Chinese operating a giant slingshot while another hundred million pulled it. Today, China has firmly established itself as a leading force in the global space industry.


Skepticism continued until the early 1990s when China initiated its manned space program. After an unsuccessful test of the Shenzhou spacecraft prototype, an American expert remarked that some countries “simply cannot learn to fly in space,” suggesting China was inherently incapable of mastering such complex technology. However, the enactment of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Scientific and Technological Progress in 1993, which significantly increased government funding for science and technology, led to China becoming the world’s third space superpower capable of independently conducting manned flights by 2003. What was once ridiculed had become a reality.


In 2003, Shenzhou-5 entered orbit with “taikonaut” (as astronauts are called in China) Yang Liwei on board. Five years later, in 2008, taikonauts conducted a spacewalk during the Shenzhou-7 mission. Over 20 years have passed, and the upcoming launch of Shenzhou-18 in April 2024 using the Long March-2 F rocket no longer surprises anyone. It is noteworthy that China attributes its space achievements to the advancements made by Soviet and American space programs, whose scientific contributions enabled China’s rapid progress.


In the modern space industry, five primary drivers exist: (1) technologies that reduce costs (e.g., new materials, spacecraft component prototypes, ultra-light launch vehicles, and spacecraft miniaturization); (2) increased private investment; (3) a global economy increasingly reliant on Big Data; (4) viewing space activities as a source of economic growth; and (5) military and strategic developments. These drivers shape the space industry not only in China but also in the USA, Russia, and other countries with space programs. Joint development in these areas by the global community could benefit all humanity and assist in finding a “new home.”


China recognizes that in the contemporary world, a state that neglects scientific and technological development has no future. The space industry plays a crucial role in elevating the nation’s prestige through significant achievements. In 2016, China launched the world’s first satellite for quantum information transfer, Mozi, named after an ancient Chinese philosopher. This project, costing approximately $100 million, transmits data via photons that cannot be intercepted or copied, as any interception attempts would result in the photons’ self-destruction.


During the global COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, China made significant strides in both near-Earth and deep space exploration. Presently, China calls on the international community to collaborate in space exploration through various joint projects, the outcomes of which could greatly benefit humanity. China’s proposal for joint research is particularly relevant given the impending end of the International Space Station’s (ISS) operational life by 2024, with possible extensions to 2028 or 2030 under consideration. Following this, China’s “Tiangong” (Heavenly Palace) will be the only space station in low-Earth orbit. Tiangong, a manned multi-module orbital station launched between 2021 and 2022, orbits at an altitude of 340 to 450 km above Earth. As the world’s third multi-module manned orbital station, after Mir and the ISS, Tiangong consists of three modules, weighs over 60 tons, and can be expanded to over 100 tons. This station will usher in a new era of space exploration and expand international cooperation. Thus, China’s invitation to collaborate in space exploration should be viewed not as a declaration of leadership, but as a goodwill gesture towards building a “community with a shared future for mankind.”


China is also planning manned missions to the Moon and Mars. On November 24, 2020, China launched the Chang’e-5 lunar probe, which successfully delivered 2 kg of lunar soil to Earth in mid-December 2020, making China the third country to accomplish this feat. By 2030, China plans to establish a research station on the Moon and subsequently pursue Mars exploration. For instance, on July 23, 2020, China launched the Tianwen-1 mission to Mars, which successfully landed on Utopia Planitia on May 14, 2021. Around 2030, China expects to send a return probe to bring back Martian soil samples. By 2050, Chinese scientists aim to send a manned mission to Mars, with preparations already underway. Notably, the first Chinese Mars exploration program was officially adopted only in 2016. In less than a decade, China’s achievements in near and deep space exploration have been remarkable.


The intensive study of near (the Moon) and deep space (Mars and other celestial bodies) within the framework of the “common destiny of mankind” concept holds significant promise. Future space exploration will require collective efforts. For example, the achievements of Elon Musk and SpaceX have prompted China to develop its own commercial space industry, targeting markets in Belt and Road countries and developing nations unable to afford Western services. Over the past thirty years, China has achieved tremendous success in space exploration. This progress has been possible due to the visionary leadership of the country and its space industry, both dedicated to serving the interests of the state and humanity.


Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries should take note of China’s achievements in the space industry. Collaborative projects with China could help these countries realize their potential in the space sector. Kazakhstan, for instance, conducts research in areas such as the evolution of the universe, solar-terrestrial physics, and dynamic processes in near-Earth space. New fields have emerged, including ground-space geodynamic and geophysical monitoring, space monitoring of emergencies, and the development of spacecraft technologies and components. These directions are relevant for all Central Asian countries.


To achieve the goals of creating and utilizing space technologies for economic and security purposes, assistance from China would be invaluable. As mentioned, the target market for China’s commercial space industry includes Belt and Road countries. Taking advantage of these opportunities is prudent. The Belt and Road Initiative presents a chance for the development of Kazakhstan’s and Central Asia’s space industry, whose ancestors (such as Al-Abbas al-Jawhari, Abu Raikhan al-Biruni, Ulugbek, etc.) made significant contributions to the sciences that underpin modern astronautics. This collaboration is particularly relevant in light of the “China – Central Asia” community of common destiny announced in 2022, which represents a historical choice aimed at promoting the interests and well-being of the peoples of these regions.



Erkin Baidarov , specially for the China Studies Centre