You may ask, so what? One so what is that some other nation, like China, may be the first back to the Moon. A friend of mine,♠ someone who is a student of China (The People's Republic of China or the PRC), made these comments, which he agreed I could share:
The psychological impact of China's landing a man on the Moon will be enormous in three audiences:The United States doesn't have to lead the world. The problem is, our own view of freedom and the rights and responsibilities of citizens is not the same as the views of all other nations. Our view is preserved by our system of checks and balances, but also by the fact that others, with a few exceptions, are willing to let us peacefully go about our business. If we begin to appear weak, we will find that others will not respect us and that eventually they will try to push us around. History is filled with examples.
It will be a rather different world, the morning after. And it will be in the mind, not the physicality, that it will be different.
- In China. It will show that they have truly achieved what the CCP has implicitly sought, to move China back to center stage. The past 200 years or so will be shown to be an aberration, and it will be the Chinese Communist Party that will have righted that wrong.
- The rest of the world. American exceptionalism, often pooh-poohed here, is something very real. There is a reason why people CHOOSE to emigrate here. Should the PRC be able to put a man on the Moon while the US is still years away from being able to do so, we can assuage ourselves w/ the litany of "we did it decades ago," but there will be the perception, per bin Laden, of who is the winning horse and who is the losing horse.
- The United States. Some people think the Chinese will land at Tranquility Base, roll up the US flag, and plant the Chinese flag. Would that they did! But they're hardly likely to be so provocative. And what will that end of American exceptionalism do here? What will be the impact on the American President who "lost" the Moon, or on the constant refrain, "we put a man on the Moon, why can't we solve X"? I suspect it will raise real doubts, in a way that not even Sputnik did. (And we now have the new history of the space race which argues that Ike wanted the Soviets to fly Sputnik first, to avoid all those annoying legal issues of overflight rights.)
Peaceful competition in space is better than military competition here on earth. Let us get back in the space race.
Regards — Cliff
♠ The author of the remarks is Dean Cheng, who recently served as CNA Corporation’s Senior Asia Analyst. He now is a Research Fellow on Chinese military and security affairs at the Heritage Foundation.