China To Help Emirati MBRSC Land Rover On The Lunar Surface; Beijing Further Deepens Cooperation In The Middle East

China’s efforts to break into the Middle East market appear to be going in the right direction. After becoming a major drone supplier for the region, Beijing is now reportedly working with regional players in the space sector.

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China will assist the UAE in sending one of its rovers to the Moon’s surface in their first joint space project. On September 16, the UAE’s Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center (MBRSC) announced that it had inked a memorandum of understanding with China’s National Space Agency (CNSA) to collaborate on future lunar missions.

The two organizations will “collaborate on future moon missions involving the landing of an MBRSC rover aboard a CNSA lander,” the MBRSC tweeted. The agreement represents “the first joint space project between the UAE and China.”

The MBRSC is already collaborating with two private sector partners on the Emirates Lunar Mission, which is slated to send the small Rashid rover to the Moon late this year. 

The mission will be launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, and Rashid, weighing 22 pounds (10 kilograms), will descend aboard Hakuto-R, a lander built by the Japanese company ispace.

Given China’s strong record of lunar exploration, joining the country for future moon work makes a lot of sense. China has flown three successful lunar surface missions in the past decade. The collaboration certainly would allow the UAE to reach the Moon more easily. 

China has a robust lunar exploration program. It made its maiden Moon landing in 2013 with the Change-3 spacecraft. It also succeeded in landing a spacecraft on the far side of the Moon in 2019. Both missions are still operational. 

In late 2020, the Chang’e 5 mission also succeeded in bringing the first lunar sample to Earth since the mid-1970s. The Emirates Lunar Mission and the recently announced deal with China are part of the UAE’s determined effort to become a more prominent player in the space domain. 

For instance, in the fall of 2019, the country dispatched Hazza Al Mansouri, its first astronaut, to the International Space Station. Sultan AlNeyadi, another UAE astronaut, will go to the orbiting lab as part of SpaceX’s Crew-6 mission for NASA next year and stay there for six months.

The UAE began the Emirates Mars Mission in 2020, which launched an orbiter named Hope to Mars. Hope successfully landed on Mars in February 2021, and it is still orbiting the planet to continue its study of the Martian environment and atmosphere.

Additionally, the country is currently working on a mission to the asteroid belt that it hopes to launch in the late 2020s.

China’s Involvement In The Middle East Market

In recent years, the level of collaboration between China and Middle Eastern nations has increased steadily and visibly. The United States has long been the region’s top provider of armaments to customers like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

With China progressively becoming a key player in the Middle Eastern arms trade, this long-standing pattern is shifting very swiftly.

Beijing has been making relentless efforts to take advantage of the lucrative defense markets as the US appears to be losing some clout, especially after the cancellation of the F-35 stealth fighter deal with the UAE.

The Middle East is experiencing an increase in demand for cutting-edge military technologies. The main reason is that some countries in the region continue to face both conventional and unconventional threats.

CAIG Wing Loong II - Wikipedia
CAIG Wing Loong II – Wikipedia

China is very interested in adding military-security cooperation as one of the facets of its entire Middle East strategy, notably arms transactions and co-production. China’s technological growth in defense research and development (R&D), especially in the drone sector, has further boosted its position.

China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology announced a partnership agreement in March 2017 to collaborate on the production of the CH-4 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), a Chinese drone that resembles the American MQ-1 Predator drone.

Such drones have been in the hands of Saudi Arabia since 2014.

Similarly, the UAE imported Wing Loong I drones built in China in 2011, and in 2017 it became the first user of the Wing Loong II drone.

In light of the US’s growing reluctance to provide its longtime allies with equivalent systems, this is another proof of the hassle-free agreements China has negotiated with its Middle Eastern customers.