China’s satellite network overtakes the US’

China’s satellite network overtakes the US’

China has surpassed the US in terms of its global positioning system, costing the US one of its major tools of world hegemony. GPS satellites, which are the key to theWashington’s worldwide military supremacy, are no longer unrivaled. The Global Positioning and Satellite System which has been developed by China is far superior to America’s. It is also free of charge and open to the entire world!


On July 31, 2020, China officially commissioned the BeiDou (the Big Dipper) Global Positioning System (GPS). Chinese President Xi Jinping himself made the announcement at a ceremony held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, attended by the country’s top military and government leaders. General Zhang Youxia, vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, praised the team that founded the GPS for achieving their goals six months ahead of schedule despite the Covid-19 pandemic. “It is an important milestone in the way our country climbs the heights of science and strides towards becoming a space power,” he said. (1)


BeiDou, one of the most important technological advances made by China in recent years, has the feature of being the first in the world with its integrated operation of communication and positioning functions.

BeiDou’s wise slogan defines its function: “Serve the World and Benefit Mankind!” (2) China presents BeiDou as an open system for economic and military space infrastructure, free of charge. China promises that BeiDou will build a world of smart manufacturing and innovation which is not dependent on the West. This is a chance for China to form partnerships and alliances and control standards for information technology, mobile devices, 5G, self-driving cars and drones, and the internet of things on a larger scale. It aims to provide a better internet and technology experience overall, especially for developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Undoubtedly, Beidou’s breakthrough reflects the sharing philosophy of the multipolar new world that is being established.


With the completion of the system by launching its 55th and final probe, BeiDou, which has been in service since 2018, has greatly increased its positioning accuracy. The margin of error has been reduced to 10 cm, while the US government’s which is operated by the US Air Force has an accuracy of about 30 cm.

The People’s Liberation Army of (PLA) was using GPS for positioning and communication purposes, but switched to BeiDou after it went into operation.

The Chinese government has ordered BeiDou terminals to be fitted to all transport vehicles and ships to improve tracking, and on essential infrastructure, like electricity grids, communication networks, and even the Three Gorges Dam – the world’s largest power station, which spans the Yangtze River. Beijing has also been promoting the use of BeiDou in the Asia-Pacific region and in countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative.

BeiDou also has many civilian applications including in smartphone chips like Qualcomm’s Snapdragon and Huawei’s Kirin. It has been announced that 100% of the critical parts of BeiDou, which is extremely important for developing countries, are made in China. The number of countries that signed cooperation agreements with China to use BeiDou has already reached 154.

BDS, along with the US-based GPS, the Russia-based GLONASS, and the Europe-based Galileo, is considered one of the four most important positioning systems in the world and one that is most suitable.


Ran Chengqi, Head of China Satellite Navigation Office and Spokesperson of BeiDou, said that through Beidou-3, users can contact the outside world in every corner of the globe. Spokesperson Ran stated that BeiDou’s authentic text message communication and international search and rescue services function can make a significant contribution to the prevention and rescue efforts of natural disasters.

Pointing out that users can send messages via BeiDou in places where there is no local mobile communication network, the spokesperson noted that the message limit includes 14 thousand bits (thousand Chinese characters) characters, pictures and sound files.

Stating that BeiDou had also joined the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group, Ran pointed out that those at risk could send a help signal via BeiDou. (3)


More than 75% of smartphones applying for internet access in the Chinese market in the first quarter of 2020 support BDS. The price of BeiDou’s Chinese made chip has dropped to RMB 6 (6.25 TL-0.85 USD).

Currently, more than 6.5 million operating vehicles, 40,000 postal and courier vehicles, approximately 80,000 buses in 36 central cities, more than 3,200 inland river navigation facilities and more than 2,900 marine navigation facilities are using the BeiDou system in China. The number of agricultural machinery using the automatic driving system based on BeiDou has reached 20,000.


Simonetta Di Pipa, Director of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, described China’s success as an initiative for the benefit of the world, in a video message she sent to BeiDou’s opening ceremony. “Indeed, GNSS plays a huge role in global affairs: supporting activities in finance, aviation, maritime navigation, road traffic management, agriculture, law enforcement, and telecommunication, as well as life-saving, humanitarian work in global emergency response, and search and rescue operations. When applied to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), our research demonstrates that GNSS together with earth observation, is instrumental for nearly 40% of the targets underpinning the SDG implementation. In this context, the services provided by BeiDou are already driving social and economic development around the world.” (4)


In 1996, during the “Third Taiwan Strait Crisis”, China fired missiles at three targets in the Taiwan Strait as a warning against the separatist actions of the Taiwan administration, which was accelerated by the US instigation. While the first missile hit the target about 18.5 kilometers from Taiwan’s Keelung military base, no traces of the other two missiles were found, because the US had cut off the GPS signal in the Pacific at that time. As a result, the People’s Liberation Army became aware of the danger of foreign dependency in such a critical military space infrastructure. That same year, China decided to set up its own positioning system to be completed in 25 years to build a completely independent military command and control system and the necessary infrastructure for precise missile tracking.

Now, China can direct its missiles and bombs to the targets it has determined, without fear that the USA will turn off the GPS for fixed military targets. For moving targets, it can bring its missiles close to the target, then a terminal seeker can provide active guidance for precise targeting. This scenario is applicable for China’s ballistic missiles such as the DF-21-D, which can target US aircraft carriers in the Pacific. It provides independent military command and control to the BeiDou user by providing precise information about the position of their forces and the ability to direct military forces in a timely manner. This capability strengthens China’s defensive ability in matters such as the South China Sea, Taiwan or Hong Kong. It also limits the US’s counter-intervention options. It increases China’s ability to respond, and therefore its deterrence, in case the US or its allies try to intervene. This is because an independent BeiDou combined with 5G means comfortable use of real-time military command systems, control systems and destructively sensitive automatic weapon systems.


“Beidou was obviously designed a few decades after GPS, so it has had the benefit of learning from the GPS experience. It has some signals that have higher bandwidth, giving better accuracy. It has fewer orbit planes for the satellites, making constellation maintenance easier” said Andrew Dempster, director of the Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research.” (5)

It is no longer economically feasible for the US to establish a better satellite positioning system than BeiDou. It has also lost the military superiority it provides with GPS. China announced that it will build a more comprehensive and integrated positioning and timing system with Beidou at the center in 2035. In these circumstances, it is in favor of the USA to accept a more just, egalitarian international order. We will wait and see what the future holds.

1. https://www.scmp.com/news/china/science/article/3095593/chinas-beidou-set-show-way-xi-jinping-commissions-rival-americas

2. http://en.beidou.gov.cn/

3. https://www.criturk.com/haber/haber-lokasyon/beidou-ile-dunyanin-her-kosesinde-irtibat-kurmak-mumkun-161168

4. http://en.beidou.gov.cn/WHATSNEWS/202006/t20200624_20703.html

5. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-space-exploration-china-satellite/china-set-to-complete-beidou-network-rivalling-gps-in-global-navigation-idUSKBN23J0I9


Adnan Akfırat

Adnan Akfirat is former representative to China and Member of International Relations Bureau of the Patriotic Party of Türkiye; Chairman of Turkish-Chinese Business Development and Friendship Association (Turk-Cin Is Der); visitor researcher of Shanghai University Turkish Studies Center and Shihezi University Silk Road Research Center. Mr. Akfirat has been living in Shanghai since 2011.

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June 2024