China's launch of its second manned spacecraft, Shenzhou VI, has confirmed the country's place among the space elite.
Shenzhou VI carried two Chinese astronauts into space
But as China begins planning a lunar mission in 2007, and with the US and India declaring an interest in another Moon landing - and a manned flight to Mars - are we seeing the dawn of a new space race?
"Once China had announced its first unmanned lunar spacecraft, India came along and said that they were also interested in unmanned lunar exploration," Philip Clark, of the British-based Molniya Space Consultancy, told BBC World Service's Analysis programme.
"They've now signed an agreement with the European Space Agency for joint experiments with the Indian spacecraft.
"And the Japanese have already flown their own unmanned lunar missions," he said.
Forced to go alone
While India's space programme is relatively small, it has made considerable strides in recent years, putting a number of satellites into orbit.
Dr Rodham Narasimhan, the director of India's Space Commission, said the aim of the programme had always been to develop practical civilian applications from the spacecraft.
He described these aims as "developmental - communications, remote sensing, agricultural crop production."
But, perhaps because of this, India has also been able - unlike the Chinese - to buy in expertise of other space agencies where necessary.
India has managed to develop its programme through collaboration
"We could have India and Japan pooling their resources, because the Japanese have got far more capable launch vehicles than the Indians have," Mr Clark explained.
"But the Chinese are having to basically do everything on their own," he said.
Another reason for this is the view of the Americans towards China.
Although they agreed to join forces with the Russians in the 1990s in developing the International Space Station, the Americans, Mr Clark said, still see China as a rival, not an ally.
"It's not space as such that's the problem... it's what's the Americans see as technology transfer," he said.
"They don't want the Chinese to have access to American technology, because they believe, rightly or wrongly, that any technology that the Chinese get access to will immediately be applied to the Chinese weapons programme."
US mistrust has cost China's space programme much, space analyst Brian Harvey told Analysis.
Ultimately, their attitude has effectively grounded the Chinese commercial launcher programme.
"The Americans specified that no American-built component on any satellite anywhere in the world may fly on a Chinese rocket," Mr Harvey explained.
"This means that although the international space programme is supposed to be international, and all partners are supposed to make decisions together, in fact the reality is that Americans regard it as their own territory and they won't let the Chinese anywhere near it.
"That's a big political argument that is going on," he said.
US President George W Bush has already stated that America's ultimate goal is to return to the Moon by 2020, as a launch pad for missions to Mars and beyond.
But this far-reaching ambition has been in marked contrast to the problems the US space programme has had following the Columbia shuttle disaster in 2003.
Since the end of the Cold War, many analysts have seen an end to solo American missions as inevitable, in favour of closer collaboration with other countries - and therefore shared costs.
Any manned mission to Mars would be likely to cost over a $1 trillion, making closer partnerships between space agencies a necessity.
Serious plans are now being made for a manned mission to Mars
And Nasa's chief scientist for the Moon and Mars, Jim Garvin, said that the first person on Mars would probably be planting a whole sheaf of national flags.
"It's really a playing field for the world community, and the world's always been involved in different ways," he added.
"I see it as a UN-type flag arena on Mars."
Chinese space analyst Wu Ji, at the Centre for Space Science in Beijing, told Analysis that he strongly supported the idea of future space exploration being more collaborative.
"I think in the future we would like to have more international collaboration - not only with Europe, but also with India, with Japan, with the United States. From the Chinese side, we are very open," he said.