In the past two weeks, China has had two major UFO sightings. The first, on July 7, was basically a glowing streak in the sky near Xiaoshan airport in Hangzhou, a city outside Shanghai. In the interests of passenger safety, airport authorities shut down operations for an hour, and eighteen planes were delayed.
Eight days later, on July 15, another UFO appeared in Chongqing, a city in eastern China. Described as "four lantern-like objects forming a diamond shape," the lights "hovered over the city's Shaping Park for over an hour." Whether or not China has recently become a destination spot for space travelers, its recent spate of unexplained celestial phenomena may say a great deal about its emerging place in the world -- and its plans for the future.
China's Military in Space?
Several prosaic explanations quickly emerged for the sightings, including suggestions that the U.S. was testing bomber aircraft routes into China or the Russian military had deployed a new satellite. But the most common explanation was that the People's Liberation Army (PLA), China's military, was testing a new aircraft or missile. Admittedly, the decision to launch a weapon in range of an airport seems out of character for the secretive Chinese government, but the PLA's public stance has become increasingly aggressive over the past year, and the public display of a new, impressive technology could be an effective way to demonstrate China's rising military strength.
While China's UFO sightings are exciting in their own right, they may also indicate a change in the Middle Kingdom's status in the world. For decades, the U.S. has been the destination of choice for unidentified flying objects, with the number of sightings far outstripping those of other countries. Since1940, in fact, there have been 56 clusters of sightings in America. By comparison, China has had only four -- two of which occurred within the past two weeks.
China's Industry and UFOs
There are several terrestrial explanations for UFOs. Two of the main studies on unidentified flying objects -- the U.S. Air Force's project Blue Book and the work of Alan Hendry -- determined that most UFO sightings were easily explained. Many alleged UFO sightings were actually man-made aircraft. Other causes included dust, windblown debris, and light pollution, all of which could be the result of industrial activity.
In 2009, China had 11% industrial growth and, according to China Online Daily, the country is working to achieve an equivalent growth rate this year. Such impressive economic development comes at a cost: China's air quality is the worst in the world, and the lower Yangtze delta -- where Hangzhou is located -- is among the regions that have been specifically cited for airborne particulates. Add in the horrific dust storms that China had earlier this year, and the effect is an air pollution index that is literally off the charts. While dust in the air wouldn't cause UFOs, it could exaggerate, blur, or refract commonly-occurring light, creating images that look like light beams and glowing spheres.
Blame China's Space Program
Another contributing factor could be the psychological impact of a space program. It's worth noting, for example, that UFO sightings in America spiked between 1965 and 1975, when the U.S. space program was at its height. While this could be coincidental, it seems likely that, as more and more Americans cast their eyes heavenward, many of them saw things that they couldn't explain.
China has had a space program for decades, but it only recently kicked into overdrive. In 2003, the country launched its first manned spaceflight, a 21-hour orbit of the earth. Four years later, it successfully conducted its first unmanned orbit of the moon, and it plans to conduct a manned landing by 2022. According to some estimates, they could get there by 2017.
China isn't the only Asian country with an aggressive space program. For the past few years, pundits around the globe have noted that India and China are facing off in what might be a replay of the U.S./USSR space race of the 1960's. In 2008, India's Chandrayaan-1 probe landed on the moon, and the south Asian behemoth now has its sights set on Mars.
The India connection further cements the space program/UFO link. Like its neighbor to the east, India is also experiencing a spike in unidentified space phenomena: in the past five years, it has had five major clusters of UFO sightings. In fact, if UFOs are any measure of a nation's potential for space exploration, India has a very bright future: with 60% more sightings than China, it appears that the South Asian behemoth is far ahead in at least one aspect of the space race.