The moon is the limit for good rea­son

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

The suc­cess­ful launch of Chang’e 3 and its moon rover Yutu, or Jade Rab­bit, marks a gi­ant step in China’s lu­nar probe pro­gram. Chang’e 3 is ex­pected to land on the moon on Dec 14, af­ter which the six-wheeled Yutu will be low­ered in stages to the moon’s sur­face to ex­plore the ter­rain.

Some peo­ple, how­ever, have crit­i­cized the lu­nar pro­gram say­ing it is highly costly and has no eco­nomic re­turns. True, by send­ing a rover to the moon, China will not make any im­me­di­ate profit, but in the long run the pro­gram could be­come a pow­er­ful driv­ing force for the econ­omy. And al­though the to­tal cost of the moon mis­sion is not known, the first two phases of the pro­gram — Chang’e 1 and Chang’e 2 — cost 2.3 bil­lion yuan ($378.67 mil­lion ), which is not very high con­sid­er­ing its im­por­tance.

Rou­tine in­no­va­tions are far from enough to pro­pel tech­nol­ogy in this age. Pro­grams that in­volve ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy are needed to rev­o­lu­tion­ize the sys­tem. And the moon probe is a typ­i­cal ex­am­ple of such a pro­gram. In fact, all space flights have helped de­velop the field of tech­nol­ogy. The US’ Project Apollo in the 1960s and 1970s con­trib­uted im­mensely to the de­vel­op­ment of mod­ern tech­nol­ogy. Be­fore hu­man be­ings flew into space (and later to the moon), com­put­ers were more like heavy ma­chin­ery. It was the need to fly to the moon that prompted sci­en­tists to dras­ti­cally re­duce the weight of CPUs, lead­ing to the de­vel­op­ment of a vast in­dus­try of mi­cro­com­put­ers.

The same ap­plies to wire­less com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Since moon rovers and space­ships needed re­li­able com­mu­ni­ca­tion through vac­uum, sci­en­tists fur­ther im­proved the ex­ist­ing wire­less tech­nol­ogy, which later de­vel­oped into in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy.

China’s moon mis­sion will en­cour­age sim­i­lar de­vel­op­ments. To send a rover to the moon, China needed more pow­er­ful and in­no­va­tive pro­pel­lers, highly ef­fec­tive non-fos­sil fuel and se­curely func­tional high-ca­pac­ity nu­clear bat­tery. This ex­pe­dited re­search and de­vel­op­ment, whose re­sults could also be ap­plied for civil use.

Tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ment has ac­quired great strate­gic sig­nif­i­cance for China. Fac­ing an ag­ing pop­u­la­tion and ris­ing la­bor cost, China can­not rely on la­bor-in­ten­sive in­dus­tries for­ever; it has to up­grade its in­dus­tries.

As Pre­mier Li Ke­qiang said af­ter tak­ing of­fice in March, China needs “an up­graded ver­sion” of its econ­omy. And the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15) also stresses that China will de­velop into an “in­no­va­tive coun­try”.

To fully re­al­ize the po­ten­tial of ad­vanced tech­nolo­gies like astro­nau­tics, China needs a se­ries of re­forms in other sys­tems. It also needs to ex­plore the mar­ket po­ten­tial of sup­port­ing re­search in and de­vel­op­ment of mod­ern tech­nolo­gies. In this re­gard, the mar­ket plays an im­por­tant role. For ex­am­ple, The US fi­nan­cial mar­ket re­acted pos­i­tively to Project Apollo by of­fer­ing enough fi­nan­cial sup­port to high-tech pro­grams, which helped make the pro­gram such a big suc­cess.

China shares the US’ en­thu­si­asm in de­vel­op­ing high-end tech­nol­ogy, but its fi­nan­cial mar­ket is not ma­ture enough for the job (or chal­lenge). China has de­vel­oped “pri­vate eq­uity” and “ven­ture cap­i­tal” in­vest­ments thanks to the ex­is­tence of a “growth en­ter­prise mar­ket” within its stock mar­ket, but it still lacks “an­gel in­vest­ment” that is widely con­sid­ered a ne­ces­sity to sup­port in­no­va­tive tech­nolo­gies.

Some com­pa­nies, like Face­book, that have changed our life in the age of the In­ter­net were sup­ported by “an­gel in­vest­ment” in their early stages. So China needs to re­form its fi­nan­cial sys­tem to rally more sup­port for busi­ness star­tups.

Be­sides, China needs to mod­ern­ize its con­cept of in­dus­try and in­vest more in new in­dus­tries. Light in­dus­try does serve peo­ple’s daily needs and heavy in­dus­try does serve man­u­fac­tur­ing and con­struc­tion needs, but the im­por­tance of new in­dus­try based on tech­no­log­i­cal up­grade and in­no­va­tion can­not be over­stated in the age of in­for­ma­tion. The first two still form the in­dus­trial ba­sis of China, that’s why there is an abun­dance of “made in China” prod­ucts across the globe. To change the “made in China” la­bel to “cre­ated in China”, the coun­try needs to de­velop new in­dus­tries and es­tab­lish a new in­no­va­tion mech­a­nism, and of course al­lo­cate more funds for R&D.

The moon probe mis­sion may de­mand a huge amount of money, but it will bring great ben­e­fits to the coun­try in the long run. It is time to look into the fu­ture in­stead of be­ing blinded by prej­u­dices. The au­thor is di­rec­tor of Hong Kong­based China Academy of Xin­sheng Econ­omy, and has a book, Un­cod­ing Econ­omy, to his credit. The ar­ti­cle is an ex­cerpt from his in­ter­view with China Daily’s writer Zhang Zhoux­i­ang.


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