The rocket didn't hit anything, but the criticism should
The world got lucky when China's wayward Long March 5B rocket reentered the atmosphere and seems mostly to have splashed into the Indian Ocean. The odds favored an uncontrolled water arrival (let's not call it a "landing"), since 71% of the Earth's surface is water.
■ But neither the rest of the world nor the Chinese public should be satisfied that the authorities in China were willing to be so reckless about it landing somewhere on the remaining 29%. Nature already drops things from space onto our heads from time to time, like the 440-kiloton fireball that crashed into Russia in 2013. There's no reason to add to that risk with man-made debris, certainly not when better alternatives are available.
■ Four simple rules offer a pretty good set of guidelines for living according to classical liberal principles: Make money, have fun, clean up after yourself, and mind your business. Ever since China steered into "socialism with Chinese characteristics" under Deng Xiaoping, the country's ruling powers have been willing to look favorably upon the "making money" part. (A growing economy, after all, is one of the main tools they have for pacifying the public.)
■ But those other guiding virtues don't have much of a place under an authoritarian regime. And while those of us outside the country can have strong opinions about the regime's conduct as it relates to the others, it is "cleaning up after yourself" where we have a first-degree right to demand better (as opposed to, say, speaking out on behalf of people within China whose universal human rights are being denied).
■ Letting rocket debris rain down uncontrollably over the planet is inexcusable when controlled re-entry is something humankind has been able to do for decades. China's regime should face endless global criticism for subjecting the world to the threat. Just because we all got lucky and avoided the worst possible outcome of their stupid game of rocket-reentry roulette doesn't mean we should just forgive and forget.
■ Along the way to getting rich and making material progress, every culture is likely to pass through a phase of abnormally intense pollution and waste. But there's no reason to accept rampant carelessness as an unavoidable cost of doing business. This applies whether we're talking about carbon dioxide emissions, high-risk scientific experimentation, or launching space stations into orbit. Clean up after yourself: It's just not that hard.