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Chinese Criticize Regime for Using Free-falling Rocket to Mock India Pandemic Losses

Neil Campbell
Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.
Published: May 5, 2021
This photo taken on April 23, 2021 shows the Long March 5B rocket, which launched China's Tianhe space station core module on April 29, at the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site. NASA criticized the CCP after the world was fortunate enough to have the rocket land in the Indian Ocean.
This photo taken on April 23, 2021 shows the Long March 5B rocket, which launched China's Tianhe space station core module on April 29, at the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site. NASA criticized the CCP after the world was fortunate enough to have the rocket land in the Indian Ocean. (Image: STR/China News Service (CNS)/AFP via Getty Images)

Chinese took to the internet to complain after the Chinese Communist Party’s internal security apparatus committed a huge gaffe on Weibo, the mainland’s version of Twitter, when comparing widespread funeral pyres in pandemic-stricken India to the April 29 launch of a now-wayward Long March 5B rocket.

On May 1, the CCP’s notorious Political and Legal Affairs Commission (PLAC) posted on its official “China Changan Net” Weibo account a side-by-side picture of cremation workers in India burning the bodies of those who perished in the COVID-19 pandemic against the April 29 launch of the latest Long March 5B rocket, which carried the 22.5 ton Tianhe “Heavenly Harmony” unmanned space station module into space. 

The PLAC’s post had the words, written in Chinese, “Lighting a fire in China vs. lighting a fire in India” followed by a hashtag commenting on how India’s COVID-19 positive test rate now exceeded 400,000 per day.

Screenshot of the Political and Legal Affairs Commission’s official Weibo account, China Changan Net, comparing the launch of the now-wayward Long March 5B rocket against funeral pyres for victims of the COVID-19 pandemic in India. (Image: Weibo, now deleted)

According to Chinese-language media outlet Dajiyuan, the Ministry of Public Security also made similar posts mocking India’s plight on Weibo. All such posts were deleted on May 1. 

The PLAC is a powerful security organization, overseeing all of China’s police, procuratorates, and courts to ensure that the law follows the Communist Party line.

DJY says Chinese netizens were not shy in mocking the post despite the country’s heavy internet censorship. One user flamed the Commission directly, “As the official Weibo of the Chinese Political and Legal Commission News, your remarks are really embarrassing. Don’t you have basic humanistic care!?” while others said they reported the post to Weibo for promoting hatred and “regional discrimination.”

Another netizen, showing conscience, apologized to India on behalf of the Chinese people, “China Changan Net does not represent the Chinese people. I hope that the Indian people will be free of COVID-19 as soon as possible,” they said.

When Bloomberg pressed the People’s Republic of China (PRC) Foreign Ministry for comment on the controversy, the Ministry simply sidestepped the issue, “We hope everyone gives attention to the Chinese government and mainstream public opinion supporting India’s fight against the epidemic,” while promising to send more pandemic aid to India.

Like a falling star

After the Long March 5B rocket delivered the Heavenly Harmony module to the Chinese Space Station, which will become its living quarters, the 21-ton core quickly entered a temporary orbit and will become one of the largest uncontrolled re-entries ever.

SpaceNews explained why this is unusual behavior for a rocket core: “Most expendable rocket first stages do not reach orbital velocity and reenter the atmosphere and land in a pre-defined reentry zone. Some other larger, second stages perform deorbit burns to lower altitude to reduce time in orbit and lower chances of collisions with other spacecraft or to immediately reenter the atmosphere.”

They said the core was expected to attempt an active maneuver to deorbit itself, which did not happen. During an April 29 press conference, Commander-in-Chief of the launch vehicle, Wang Jue, only said the “second Long March 5B had seen improvements over the first launch,” but did not speak of any deorbiting attempts.

“What’s bad is that it’s really negligent on China’s part. Things more than ten tonnes we don’t let them fall out of the sky uncontrolled deliberately,” said Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at Harvard University to The Guardian.

The core appeared to be tumbling and out of control, according to a Japanese Twitter post of an amateur ground observation showing the orbiting object.

The plummeting Chinese rocket core is now the largest man-made object to fall towards Earth since the Soviet Union’s Salyut-7 in 1991. The decommissioned space station weighed 39 tons. 

The core has been named 2021-035B by the U.S. military and can be tracked on As of the evening of May 5, the debris tracked at travelling at more than 28,000 km/h and at an ever-falling altitude of approximately 191 kilometers. 

It’s not the first rodeo for Communist China’s space team playing with a massive object and an uncontrolled re-entry. In May of 2020, debris from an earlier Long March 5B rocket landed on two villages in the Ivory Coast. That rocket core weighed 18 tons. 

McDowell said of the previous 5B crash, “Most of it burned up, but there were these enormous pieces of metal that hit the ground. We are very lucky no one was hurt.”

The rocket is expected to crash into Earth on May 10, plus or minus two days. Based on its velocity, it could land as far north as Beijing, Madrid, or New York, and anywhere as far south as Chile or New Zealand. 

McDowell is optimistic, however. He says because the Earth is 71 percent composed of ocean, statistics are on society’s side.