This post is also available in: עברית (Hebrew)
The Chinese Beidou navigation network will be complete this month when its final satellite goes into orbit, a move that will complete a global navigation network and wean the country off US technology in this area.
It’s a significant development because it will ensure China’s military systems will remain online in the event of a conflict with the U.S., but it’s also part of Beijing’s push to increase its technological influence overseas. “The Beidou network is emblematic of China’s grand ambitions in respect to foreign policy. They’re taking a much more global view,” Christopher Newman, professor of space law and policy at Northumbria University in the U.K., told cnbc.com.
Plans for China’s own system took shape in the late 1990s and the first version of Beidou was in service by 2000, providing coverage for satellite-based services to China. Beijing began deploying the third generation of satellites aimed at global coverage in 2015. The 35th and final Beidou-3 satellite will be launched this month – the day has yet to be announced – meaning Beidou has more satellites in its system than GPS’s 31, and more than the EU’s Galileo and Russia’s GLONASS.
With estimated investment of $10 billion, Beidou keeps the communications network of the Chinese military secure, avoiding the risk of disruption to GPS in the extreme event of conflict.
When complete, Beidou’s location services are accurate down to 10 cm in the Asia-Pacific, compared with GPS’s 30-cm range, according to international news agencies.
Beidou-related services such as port traffic monitoring and disaster mitigation have been exported to about 120 countries, state media reported.
Many of those countries are involved in the Belt and Road initiative, spearheaded by President Xi Jinping to create a modern-day Silk Road of trade and investment.
Countries like Thailand and Pakistan are already using the Beidou system for various uses. Yang Changfeng, chief designer of Beidou, claimed that over half of the countries in the world are using the network.
Within China, more than 70% of mobile phones were Beidou-enabled as of 2019, state media reported.