Sensing Satellites and CPEC


Naveed Aman Khan


PAKISTAN and China have stepped in satellite technology jointly in different projects . China is going to launch two sensing  satellites  to monitor the development projects worth  US $ 62 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor . Interestingly it will be the first international commercial launch for a Long March-2C rocket for two decades after it carried Motorola’s Iridium satellites into orbit in 1999. The rocket will too carry the China-France Oceanography Satellite into space in September this year . The satellite will monitor ocean wind and waves. Long March-2C rockets are mainly used to send satellites into low Earth or Sun synchronous orbits.

Earlier, China had also launched Pakistan’s communication satellite PAKSAT-1R back in the year 2011. Pakistan and China  had signed an agreement in 2016 for the launch of a special remote sensing satellite in the year 2018 . Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) and the China Great Wall Industry Cooperation (CGWIC) signed an agreement for the development and launch of the ‘Pakistan Remote Sensing Satellite (PRSS-1) System’ in April 2016. It was underlined that Pakistan and China will use space technology to carry out planning and execution of development projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) more scientifically, and in this regard a satellite will be launched in June 2018.

The satellite covers all of Pakistan, parts of South and Central Asia, the Far East, Eastern Europe and East Africa. It will replace the aging Paksat-1, which is approaching the end of its two decades long  life span  November 2018. In 1990 Pakistan launched its first indigenously developed satellite, Badar-1, from China. A year later China formally signed an agreement to enhance cooperation for peaceful applications of space technologies, and various other agreements in the same vein have ensued. The agreement to develop Paksat-1R was finalised in October 2008. For its completion, China provided Pakistan with US $ 35 million loan. In October 2010, Pakistan signed contract with the EXIM Bank of China to obtain an additional US$14 million concessional loan.

Pakistan stated that the launch of Paksat-1R would ‘revolutionise’ the use of broadband internet, digital television broadcasting and rural telephony, as well as spur the economy, strengthen the education and health sector, and help increase disaster preparedness .The satellite will also provide strategic advantages to Pakistan’s armed forces. But most importantly, young Pakistani scientists gained first hand experience by working alongside Chinese counterparts. This experience will go a long way in Pakistan’s space sciences research, with Sino-Pakistani space cooperation seeking to cover climate science, clean energy technologies, clean water technologies, cyber security and other sciences across the board. Pakistan’s space agency plans to launch an optical satellite by the end of the year, and a high resolution Remote Sensing Satellite System. Pakistan intends to eventually build its own spaceship as well with China’s help to monitor CPEC. China will also gain a lot from its cooperation with Pakistan. From a commercial perspective, space technology is an emerging market in which China is gaining an advanced level of expertise. By 2020, the market value of the navigation and satellite industry is expected to exceed US $ 400 billion and China intends to grab a share.

There is a military dimension to this cooperation as well. Although China Pakistan cooperation in space technology is for peaceful purposes, its defence implications cannot be ruled out. SUPARCO is closely linked with Pakistan’s other organisations such as the Kahuta Research Laboratories , responsible for Pakistan’s missiles program. The US-imposed sanctions against Pakistan over the clandestine development of its nuclear and missile program during the 1990s effectively included a sanction on SUPARCO. So the current China-Pakistan cooperation in space technology might raise concerns with the US, and possibly India. China Pakistan space cooperation is timely and mutually beneficial. China is looking for a market for its growing space expertise while Pakistan needs assistance with soft loans, training of its scientists and know-how in space science. This cooperation adds a new dimension to their already robust relationship. It brings Pakistan closer to China than ever before.  China Pakistan Economic Corridor is main matter of concern for Pakistan. Both the countries have decided to safeguard CPEC by all means utilising full potentials and capabilities. No matter it is satellite technology. Sensitive Satellite technology will ensure security of the worthy multi billions dollar CPEC besides serving many other projects.

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