This week, China announced plans to dramatically expand an experimental weather modification program to cover an area of more than 5.5 million square kilometers — more than 1.5 times India’s total population.
China will have a “developed weather modification system” by 2025, according to a State Council statement, thanks to breakthroughs in fundamental science and key technologies, as well as progress in “comprehensive prevention against safety risks.”
In order to protect agricultural areas and ensure clear skies for key events, China has long tried to regulate the weather—sowing clouds ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics to reduce smog and prevent rain ahead of the competition.
The uncertainty did not stop China from investing heavily in technology: the country invested over $1.34 billion on various weather modification programs between 2012 and 2017.
Weather modification helped reduce 70 percent of hail damage in China’s western region of Xinjiang, a key agricultural area, last year according to state news agency Xinhua.
And while other countries, including the US, have also invested in cloud seeding, China’s enthusiasm for technology has caused some alarm, especially in neighboring India, where agriculture is heavily dependent on a monsoon that has already been disrupted and has become less predictable as a result of climate change.
Some in India have speculated for years that, given the importance of conditions for any troop movements in the inhospitable mountain area, weather changes could theoretically give China the edge in a future conflict.
Although the primary target of the weather modification in Beijing appears to be domestic, experts have cautioned that there is the potential for impact beyond the borders of the country.
Researchers at the National Taiwan University said in a paper last year that the “lack of proper coordination of weather modification activities leads to charges of “rain theft” between neighboring regions, both within China and with other nations.”
Some experts have hypothesized that success in weather modification could lead China, especially as the country suffers from the effects of climate change, to pursue more ambitious geoengineering projects.
“While China has not yet shown signs of ‘unilaterally’ deploying geoengineering projects on the ground, the scale of its weather modification and other massive engineering projects, including mega-dam projects, suggests China is willing to deploy large-scale geoengineering schemes to tackle the impacts of climate change and achieve its Paris targets.”