Pakistan signed a space cooperation agreement with China at a ceremony in Beijing held on 27 April 2019 providing a framework for the training of Pakistani astronauts, space science and exploration, as well as the establishment of a Sino-Pakistani space committee that will discuss other cooperative initiatives in space.
The signing of the agreement by Hao Chun, Director of the China National Space Administration (CNSA), and Amer Nadeem, Chairman of Pakistan’s Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) took place on the sidelines of China’s Belt and Road Summit. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is an important aspect of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), though it has come under international criticism recently because of allegations that the infrastructure projects are over-priced, of poor quality, questionable economic viability, and incurs heavy debt on an already struggling Pakistani economy.
While brick and mortar infrastructure projects such as roads, railways, and ports receive much of the attention in media coverage of CPEC, there is a space aspect to the initiative that has already seen China launch several communication and Earth observation satellites for Pakistan, and in October 2018 it was announced that China will train and send to Earth orbit a Pakistani astronaut by 2022, a geopolitical response to an announcement by India earlier in 2018 that it will send its first indigenously launched astronaut to orbit by 2023.
“China-Pakistan space cooperation will help Pakistan in terms of satellite monitoring of natural disasters and agricultural production, land and resources surveying, and waste handling in a microgravity environment,” said Lan Jianxue, an associate research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies, in an interview with Chinese English-language newspaper the Global Times.
Lan also told the Global Times that beyond the obvious benefits for Pakistani space development, the cooperation agreement will also likely benefit China by allowing it to sell satellite services and applications in China, increase the security of its infrastructure investments there through more active space-based surveillance and connectivity, and burnish its soft power image as a provider of space assistance and public goods to the international community.
During Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Beijing in November 2018, Pakistan and China agreed to expand and deepen their collaboration in the areas of new and emerging technologies such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, and information and communications technology, “which can contribute to improved living standards through their applications in the fields of health, agriculture, water, energy and food security.”
Pakistan and China also agreed to promote the 2012-2020 Space Cooperation Outline between the CNSA and SUPARCO. The two countries expressed their satisfaction on the launch of the Pakistan Remote Sensing Satellite (PRSS-1) earlier in 2018, and agreed to further strengthen bilateral cooperation in space technology applications.