China is on its way to becoming the world’s next military superpower, thanks to Russian technology and assistance, and could be the first nation to build a moon-based space station.

Artist’s rendition of lunar base. Photo courtesy of the Space Studies Institute. Used with permission.

The Hong Kong Sunday Morning Post reported June 8 that “a new colossus may be forming in the east as Russia and China edge toward a symbiotic relationship that could create the world’s next economic, military and space-faring superpower.”

In signaling the importance of Beijing’s relationship with Moscow, Chinese President Hu Jintao used his first trip abroad to visit Russia, during which he signed a number of far-reaching agreements in energy, space engineering, arms supplies and regional security.

“Relations with China constitute the most important factor in Russian foreign-policy strategy,” says Gennady Chuffrin, deputy director of Russia’s Institute for World Economy and International Relations.

Both nations signed a deal to build a $2.5 billion oil pipeline from Siberia to the Chinese industrial center of Daqing, which is also the location of China’s oldest oil fields. That deal also commits China to purchase $150 billion worth of Russian crude oil over 25 years.

“This is more than just a commercial deal; it is a strategic choice,” said Sergei Lusyanin, at the Institute of Far Eastern Studies in Moscow.

Russian Kilo-class submarine.

Meanwhile, Russia continues to aid China’s military modernization effort. Beijing signed a $1.6 billion deal in May 2002 to buy eight Russian Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines, one of the quietest subs in the world. Construction of the first two subs recently got under way at the Sevmash defense industry shipyards in Severodvinsk; the other six are to be completed by 2005, ITAR-TASS reported.

Additionally, in January, China agreed to buy two more Russian-built Sovremenny-class destroyers. Beijing bought two others in 1997 for $1 billion, and Moscow delivered in 1999 and 2000.

Also, Russia is helping advance China’s space program, considered by many analysts to be an ambitious effort. China plans its first manned space mission in October and also wants to build the moon’s first space station by 2010.

Former Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Robert Walker, the recent chairman of the Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry, wrote earlier this month in the Washington Times that the U.S. could be in danger of losing its space-technology edge to China.

“The Chinese are devoting substantial resources and gearing up to do some things [in space] that we are no longer technologically capable of achieving in the immediate future,” he wrote. “Our space technology today could not be used to replicate what we [the U.S.] did 35 years ago [in the moon walk].

“Our strategic thinkers [should] acknowledge the profound impact on the balance of power,” he added. “China could leapfrog the world in some important earthbound technologies,” such as achieving nuclear fusion, as well as developing options for military-related missions.

A Chinese crew, for example, has been utilizing EVA (extra-vehicular activity) technologies, used in space-based construction work, at the Russian Star City cosmonaut training facility.

China is also advancing a laser weapons program.

But some in Russia worry Moscow could be creating a monster.

“Many Russians worry,” said one expert at the Institute of Oriental Studies in Moscow, “that one day the Chinese will just come and take Siberia away from us,” the Hong Kong Sunday Morning Post reported.

Related stories:

China buys more Russian destroyers

China set to field world’s most powerful tank

China steps up preparation for U.S. conflict

China develops anti-satellite weapon

China anti-satellite development continuing

China advancing laser weapons program

China speeds weapons development

Chinese military modernization continues

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.