Why does China's Moon Rover exhibit show a nuclear mushroom cloud over Europe?

The exhibit could renew concerns about China's space program

Moon rover
(Image credit: (REUTERS/Stringer))

China has made a major diplomatic faux pas by illustrating its Moon Rover exhibit with a stock image of a nuclear mushroom cloud over Europe.

While it's probably just an embarrassing error, it's still an unsettling image given the Chinese government's recent statements concerning plans to build a missile base on the Moon.

On December 3, The Beijing Times reported that Chinese experts are discussing whether the People’s Liberation Army could establish a missile base on the Moon. Per the Taiwan-based, English-language site Want China Times:

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An expert from the China National Space Administration's Lunar Exploration Programme Center told the [Beijing Times]that China plans to send its first astronaut to the moon by 2030. By 2050, the moon could become a base from which to send the country's manned spacecraft to explore deep space, the source said. [Want China Times]

Innocent enough, right? But the source added that the Moon could be transformed into a deadly weapon. Like the Death Star in Star Wars, the Moon could be used as a military battle station, bristling with ballistic missiles that could be launched against any military target on Earth.

Lest you think this is all science fiction, there has been a worrying trend toward a militarization of space. Officially, the Outer Space Treaty prohibits states from militarizing the moon, the orbit around Earth, or space in general. China, the United States, and Russia are all party to this treaty.

Yet in 2011, Wikileaks leaked documents showing that the United States and China had both shot down their own satellites using sophisticated missiles, with each country attempting to show the strength of its respective military capabilities in space.

Editor's note: This article has been revised since it was first published in order to more clearly include proper attribution to source material.

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John Aziz is the economics and business correspondent at TheWeek.com. He is also an associate editor at Pieria.co.uk. Previously his work has appeared on Business Insider, Zero Hedge, and Noahpinion.