Grand visions of the moon, including possible development of a manned mission, are part of a joint space exploration agreement Russia and China reportedly are set to sign in October. If signed as scheduled, the two countries would pursue space exploration projects over a five-year period from 2018 to 2022. According to Chinese and Russian media reports, the agreement would cover lunar and deep space missions as well as cooperation on experiments on the International Space Station, satellite systems, special materials, space debris management and Earth remote sensing.
Russia and China have been in talks on lunar exploration since at least June, according to earlier media reports. Beijing and Moscow have a long history of cooperating in the civil and commercial space sector and signed a previous space agreement in 2014.
Russia's and China's positions are not balanced. Russia's space sector reached a plateau long ago, and its success in space relies on legacy technologies largely developed during the Soviet era. Beijing seeks to access Russia's rocket, manned spaceflight and space station technology while Russia seeks to benefit from China's overall space strategy and financing. It's an arrangement in which the student could become the master and Russia ends up helping catapult China to successes beyond its own.
China desires to become a global power in space exploration and is planning to launch the first module of a space station in 2018 and a Mars rover in 2020. The United States, which has been relying on Russia to ferry astronauts to the space station since retiring the space shuttle in 2011, is developing a heavy-lift rocket system for an eventual manned launch beyond Earth's orbit in the early 2020s. The Russia-China agreement falls short of a broad space alliance that would counter the United States, which dominates deep space exploration, but it outlines some grand ambitions, and few ambitions get more attention than talk of shooting for the moon.