Pakistan announced on 25 October 2018 that it will send an astronaut into orbit by 2022 with the help of China, weeks after its arch-geopolitical rival India announced the start of its own human spaceflight programme, Gaganyaan, in cooperation with Russia, France, and other countries.
The announcement was made by Pakistani Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry ahead of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s first visit to Beijing to further cement the two country’s comprehensive strategic and cooperative partnership.
Pakistan’s first human spaceflight mission has been planned for 2022 and the federal cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Khan approved the plan on 25 October, according to various Pakistani and Indian news reports.
Reports suggest that an agreement between Pakistan’s Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) and relevant Chinese entities has already been signed, though this has yet to be independently confirmed.
China launched its first manned space mission in 2003, becoming the third country in the world to independently develop human spaceflight, after Russia and the United States.
Prime Minister Khan is embarking on his first visit to China on 3 November 2018 and will hold meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, the Pakistani foreign ministry has announced.
During the visit Pakistan and China will review the entirety of their bilateral relations which have enjoyed a long history of mutual trust and mutual support. The two sides will also sign several agreements in a number of fields and sectors, according to the Pakistani foreign ministry.
This will be Prime Minister Khan’s first official visit to China since he assumed office in August 2018, the same month that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced India’s human spaceflight programme.
In South Asia’s tectonic and nuclear-armed geopolitical context, Pakistan and China enjoy an exceptionally close strategic and cooperative partnership most recently expressed through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), while India and China view each other as rivals for regional hegemony.
Earlier in the summer of 2018, China launched two Earth observation satellites for Pakistan that were built by China, or built by Pakistani engineers with Chinese assistance.