India is scheduled to launch its Mars Orbiter Mission probe Mangalyaan on Tuesday. If everything goes well, the spacecraft will reach the orbit of the Red Planet on September 24, 2014, after traveling for 10 months. So far, only the US, Russia and EU have succeeded in Mars exploration. Other attempts to reach Mars, including China's Yinghuo-1 mission and Japan's Nozomi mission, have failed.
India has an ambitious goal of leading Asia in this area, especially having an advantage over China. As poor as India is, New Delhi managed to carry out its Mars exploration program with a budget of only $73 million, much less than the spending of China and Japan. Nonetheless, it is not immune from critics at home and abroad, who wonder whether it's worthy for a country where more than 350 million people live on less than $1.25 a day and one third of the population are plagued by power shortages to spend millions of dollars traveling hundreds of millions of kilometers for a few Mars pictures.
However, such suspicions haven't prevented India from continuously casting money into exploring outer space. Besides launching communications and remote sensing satellites, India has also successfully blasted off its lunar probe. India is confronted with an increasingly complicated public opinion environment, similar to that which China has to face, on space development. India is poor, so is China when compared with its Western counterparts. New Delhi has set China as its target, while China views the advanced level of the US and Russia as a reference.
China is a unique member in the global space club, since it has a relatively low social development but is considered "rich" at the current stage. Populism suggests space development is useless and more investment be allocated to areas such as education and healthcare. Such a proposition is unlikely to be responded to at the national strategic level.
India, which still has hundreds of millions of illiterates and where money is needed in all fields, decisively sticks to exploring Mars and the Moon. Its national interests triumph over short-sighted populism.
China has achieved a leap forward in the development of manned space flight and space station technology. It has already been in advance of India.
China is building its strategic power as well as developing its livelihood. Becoming a great power is required to manage all-round development. That's why India won't give up developing space, aircraft carrier and nuclear submarines in spite of its poor conditions.
China must keep alert on populism, avoiding letting it kidnap the national strategic interests. In front of an India that is striving to catch up with China, we have no other choice but to construct our comprehensive strategic power.