When China landed a space probe on the far side of the moon last week, it was a first for humanity. The Chang'e 4 spacecraft touched down on Thursday and then sent a rover to explore and photograph lunar terrain we Earthlings had never before seen. This feat is up there with the U.S. moon landing in 1969. But while the scientists who designed the Chang'e 4 probe were properly proud, China's state-controlled media buried the story beneath the day's more mundane news. As one space analyst put it, the silence was deafening.
The New York Times reported: "Compared with previous missions, however, the reaction to Thursday's milestones seemed strikingly restrained, both in the country's state-run news outlets and on social media. On China's most-watched TV news program early Thursday evening, the landing declared a success by officials at mission control was not even one of the four top stories." (CGTN, China's state-owned English language TV broadcast geared towards the West, however, ran more than 15 stories about the moon landing between Wednesday, Jan. 2 and Friday, Jan. 4.)
Why would this be? Why would Xi Jinping's hyper-ambitious China go relatively quiet after demonstrating that its swiftly developing technological capabilities are making the nation the global leader its president thinks it is destined to be?
Mike Pompeo suggested an answer the same day the Chang'e 4 touched down on lunar soil. President Donald Trump's secretary of state chose last Thursday to warn the Iranians to drop their plans to launch three satellites into space over the next several months. Pompeo dismissed these projects as nothing more than a cover to test intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of bearing warheads.
These events are not unrelated.
Yes, the Trump administration has started a trade war with China. But Washington's quarrels with Beijing are about far more than trade. The U.S. proposes to sanction Iran to kingdom come, so as to limit its leverage as an emerging power in the Middle East. But the U.S. administration's dangerously aggressive policies toward Tehran are about more than the Islamic Republic's regional influence.
There is a larger theme here that is not to be missed: Maintaining America's lead in advanced technologies is now essential to preserving U.S. primacy. And China and Iran are among those middle-income nations whose scientific and technological advances will at some point challenge this lead.
In effect, Washington appears intent on imposing a development ceiling on any nation that resists its global hegemony. And of all the unpromising foreign policies the U.S. now pursues, this has to count among the least thought-out. Attempting to limit any nation's aspirations to climb the development ladder is a straight-out loser. No one who understands world history since the decolonization era began in the 1950s can possibly conclude otherwise.
Tensions between the U.S. and China have increased steadily since Beijing announced its Made in China 2025 Initiative several years ago, and it is hard to imagine this is mere coincidence. As one of Xi's core strategies, Made in China 2025 designates 10 high-technology industries -- robotics, pharmaceuticals, cutting-edge telecom networks, advanced machine tools, and the like -- in which China proposes to make itself a global leader. All 10 of these industries are currently dominated by the U.S. and other Western nations.
Since Xi's program began, Washington has made persistent efforts to limit its progress. Last year the State Department began a program intended to restrict the number of Chinese students permitted to study at U.S. universities.
In two much-noted cases, the Commerce Department has gone after leading Chinese high-tech companies, ZTE and, most recently, Huawei, charging both with violations of U.S. restrictions on exports to Iran and North Korea. Legislation now prohibits the federal government from purchasing products from either company.
Justice Department on a Tear