China earlier this month made it to to Mars, becoming only the second country to put a rover to the red planet. It’s a breakthrough — scientifically, economically and politically — for a country increasingly focused on technological self-reliance.
Beijing’s first such attempt, an orbiter launched by piggybacking on a Russian spacecraft in 2011, failed. A decade later, it has done a lot more — and achieved it alone.
The propaganda value of a landing on another planet, as the Communist Party prepares to celebrate its centenary, is not lost on Beijing. Reaping the soft power benefits abroad, though, will require more than headlines.
Timely, plentiful shared technical and scientific information from its Mars mission will go a long way toward building credibility — and toward defusing some of the tension around overlapping civilian and military use that have made collaboration in space so fraught.
But openness is important. The lesson from COVID-19 vaccines was clear: Prestige and trust comes with transparency — and so too does scientific cooperation of the sort that China and the rest of the world badly needs.