China yesterday celebrated the completion of its BeiDou Navigation Satellite System that could rival the US’ GPS and significantly boost China’s security and geopolitical clout.

Chinese President (習近平) officially commissioned the system at a ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

That followed a declaration that the 55th and final geostationary satellite in a constellation launched on June 23 was operating after having completed all tests.

China celebrates completion of rival satellite system

Photo: Xinhua news agency via AP

The satellite is part of the third iteration of the BeiDou system, known as BDS-3, which in 2018 began providing navigation services to countries taking part in China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

As well as being a navigation aid with an extremely high degree of accuracy, the system offers short message communication of up to 1,200 Chinese characters and the ability to transmit images.

For China, among the chief advantages of the system, whose construction began 30 years ago, is the ability to replace GPS for guiding its missiles, especially important now amid rising tensions with Washington.

It also stands to raise China’s economic and political leverage over nations adopting it, ensuring that they line up behind China’s position on Taiwan, Tibet the South China Sea and other sensitive matters or risk losing their access.

Chinese Minsitry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Wang Wenbin (汪文斌) said the system is already in use in more than half the world’s nations and stressed China’s dedication to the peaceful use of space and desire to work with other countries.

“China is willing to continue to strengthen exchanges and cooperation in space and share the achievements of space development with other countries on the basis of mutual respect, openness, inclusiveness, equality and mutual benefit,” Wang said.

While China says it seeks cooperation with other satellite navigation systems, BeiDou could ultimately compete against GPS, Russia’s GLONASS and the EU’s Galileo networks.

That is similar to how Chinese mobile phone makers and other producers of technically sophisticated hardware have taken on their foreign rivals.

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