It's not surprising considering China's 3000 year history of technology genius and innovation, that shortly after Russia claimed a vast portion of the Arctic sea floor earlier this year, that China has announced plans to map "every inch" of the surface of the Moon and exploit the vast quantities of Helium-3 thought to lie buried in lunar rocks as part of its ambitious space-exploration program.
Helium 3 fusion energy - classic Buck Rogers propulsion system- may be the key to future space exploration and settlement, requiring less radioactive shielding, lightening the load. Scientists estimate there are about one million tons of helium 3 on the moon, enough to power the world for thousands of years. The equivalent of a single space shuttle load or roughly 25 tons could supply the entire United States' energy needs for a year.
With China's announcement, a new Moon-focused Space Race seems
locked in place. China made its first steps in space just a few years
ago, and is in the process of establishing a lunar base by 2024.
Leadership in space exploration is the tip of iceberg in the
ancient nation's resurgent global dominance in innovation in science
and technology. China has a 3,000-year history of technology genius.
Bill Gates is a greater hero in 21st-century China than Mao.
According to China Modernisation Report 2006, drawn up by the country's leading research institute, the Chinese Academy of Sciences.By 2050 China will have eradicated poverty, established itself as a world power in science and lifted the average lifespan of its billion-plus citizens to 80 years, according to two blueprints for the future.
Even by the standards of a country that has a passion for long-term economic plans, the targets - which foresee the relocation of 500 million peasants to cities, huge investment in biotechnology and the addition of hundreds of millions more cars to the streets - are ambitious, but give an indication of how the nation would like to see itself in the middle of the century.
They are likely to generate a mixed response in the outside world, where respect for China's success in raising living standards is mingled with fear that Beijing is emerging as a military rival to the US and an environmental menace to the planet.
In the past 25 years of expansion China has lifted an estimated 300 million people out of poverty, but there are still more than 80 million living below the government's poverty line of less than 668 yuan (£48) a year. By 2050, the institute predicts that nobody will have to subsist on such a meager income and everyone will have access to social services.
It says the middle class will also enjoy an affluent lifestyle that only a small minority can currently afford. Half the population - which will grow to about 1.5bn - will own their own car and be able to afford overseas travel.
The forecast is predicated on the transition of China from a predominantly agricultural society to a suburban, knowledge-based economy. This will entail moving 500 million rural dwellers into industrial cities, then 600 million city dwellers into hi-tech suburban homes. By 2050, 80% of urbanization will be completed, the report says.
The authors admit the targets will be hard to achieve. He Chuanqi, who headed the research team, told local reporters that China's economic situation is 100 years behind the US and there is only a 6% chance of his forecasts being realized.
A bigger threat is likely to be to the environment. China is already the world's second biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. If the predictions of a surge in car ownership and air travel are correct, it will far surpass the US as the major cause of global warming.
In a separate report, the state council (China's cabinet) announced plans to boost investment in clean energy and nuclear power along with 14 other areas of scientific research. By 2020, it said, the country should be spending 2.5% of its gross domestic budget on research and development, double the current level.
By that time China would be one of the most advanced nations in the world in biotechnology and space exploration, fostering a "large number of world-class scientists and research teams", and making major breakthroughs in energy exploration, energy-saving technology and clean-energy technology.
In the military field, it called for increased spending and forecast "the development of modern weapons and informationization of the army to provide assurance for the safeguarding of national security".
Overall, it predicted a steady increase in new patents and groundbreaking scientific papers that would enable China to claim a place as a major power in science and technology by 2050.
In 2003 Chinese universities saw 817,000 science and engineering students graduate - about eight times the US tally.
The Pentagon also singled out China as the only country with the capability to emerge as a military rival. US congressmen are warning that China's economy will overtake America's by 2050.
Posted by Casey Kazan.
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