In the year 1433 the Ming dynasty in China had changed its policies of maritime expansion ending four centuries of Chinese superiority on the high-seas after the eunuch Cheng Ho ended his series of expeditions.
Just about six decades later, in 1492, Christopher Columbus, trying to find a sea route to India and the orient, sailing west, discovered a world that was new to the Europeans and called the natives “Indians”. Columbus had not fallen off the edge of the world even as Renaissance Italy waited for Nicholas Copernicus.
As the Ming dynasty’s reign ended, the passivity and insularity of China gradually gave way to the rise of Europe in geopolitics. Today, half a millennium later, the world is once again entangled between the expansionist aspirations of China and a West that is leery of Asia’s ambitions. China wants to go the Moon and so does India.
Focused on problems on earth, as if the earth and its celestial habitat are mutually independent, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), given its budget constraints, is limping along after the ambitions of the Viking missions to Mars 3 decades ago with rovers today and after Apollo 4 decades ago with satellites like LCROSS crashing into the Moon in search of water, even as the shuttle is aging itself into disuse in a few years with neither an improved replacement or a successor. The space station is yet to be completed. The west is retreating like a turtle beneath its shell with a whimper after starting with a bang in 1957 and in 1969. The Vikings are now burning their ships as had the Chinese before the Italian Renaissance.
The world is not yet flat. The leveling of the playing field that some are perceiving is because of satellites that circumnavigate the earth at orbital velocities before they crash into the atmosphere when their time runs out. A satellite can make all the difference between economic growth and a recession and the world will not be flat until there is convergence in the living standards of the peoples of the world. And convergence requires ending Eurocentricity six centuries after the Renaissance just as geocentricity was interred by Copernicus during it.
It should not take the courage of another Columbus to reuse an improved version of the shuttle in a voyage to the Moon or Mars for that matter where the next gold rush awaits to bring about economic convergence for about 15 billion people by the end of this century. If none is free until all are free, that freedom cannot be realized without economic liberty.
The eunuch Cheng Ho had more courage than the current castrated state of geopolitics.