China praises Pakistan SatNav collaboration

Latest sat launch was postponed but China's GPS alternative network is nearly finished


China has signalled it anticipates further collaboration with Pakistan around Beidou, the middle kingdom’s satellite navigation constellation.

Beidou is another example of China building infrastructure it uses to strengthen alliances around the world. The SatNav constellation covers all of China and stretches north to Japan, west to Iran, south to Australia and east to reach most of the Pacific Ocean.

That’s rather smaller than either the US-centric GPS network or Europe’s Galileo, but China doesn’t need global coverage to satisfy consumers, industrial users or its military. The latter users are important because it’s widely held that in an armed conflict GPS would be made unavailable to an adversary. Russia and India have built SatNav networks for similar reasons.

Pakistan signed up as a Beidou user several years ago, a coup for China because it was able to build ground stations there.

Over the weekend Ran Chengqi, director-general of the China Satellite Navigation Office, which is responsible for Beidou, said “We perceive a better cooperation perspective with Pakistan in the field of satellite navigation system.”

Naming Pakistan in this way has been interpreted as endorsement of ongoing collaboration around Beidou, with the network also linked to China’s “belt and road” (BRI) regional infrastructure building effort. China and Pakistan held talks about the BRI over the weekend, with the two nations saying it would prove a great help combating the COVID-19 pandemic.

All of which shows China using technology to advance its interests. Although the nation also suffered a small reverse in that effort last week when it postponed the launch of a new Beidou satellite on grounds of an unspecified technical fault. ®


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