The chief administrator of the China National Space Administration, Sun Laiyan, took up his post in April. In one of his first interviews with the western media, the official spoke to the BBC World Service's Discovery programme about the country's long-term aims beyond Earth.
On the progress made by his agency, he said:
China's first man in space, Yang Liwei
Space technology is very hi-tech. It's important for national economic and social development. We won't stop doing it just because other countries have already done it. We think we still need to have these technologies to help other kinds of hi-tech development, such as material science, computers and the life sciences.
On cooperation with other nations:
We think space exploration is a joint venture for the human race. It's in our nature to explore the unknown. We are willing to have international cooperation but we need to develop our technology first. If we don't have it, we won't have equal status with other nations. We carried a UN flag on our fifth spacecraft, which showed our willingness for international cooperation.
On the US reluctance to allow China to join the International Space Station:
This space station was under construction for many years and there were some historical problems. We're willing to communicate and engage with Nasa (the US space agency), but our principle is we should be equal and benefit together. Although China's a developing country, we won't beg.
On developing China's own space station:
We'll continue developing our manned space programme; we've only sent one astronaut into space. In future, we'll send two or three more.
We'll follow the existing international routine; such as astronauts leaving the spacecraft, spaceships connecting with each other, and eventually a space laboratory and space station.
On putting women in space:
We choose astronauts who are at peak fitness. In the initial stages of the programmes in the USSR and the US, they got their astronauts from the air forces.
But now they do a lot of research, so their astronauts are often engineers or scientists. Following this rule, our future astronauts will also be scientists. We're also considering choosing female astronauts, which will make Chinese women proud and uplifted.
It's a very important reason for gender equality. We have a lot of excellent female engineers, so if they're fit they could qualify.
On the costs of going into space:
Spending on the space programme is relatively small. In the five-year plan, our budget is 10 billion RMB (renminbi, Chinese unit of currency). It's not even 0.03% of GDP. We need to solve rural issues but we need to develop [technology] to help solve these problems. For example, our communication satellites will help with long-distance education projects, health projects, etc.
On going to the Moon:
First, we'll try to send an unmanned spacecraft there in 2007. The second step is to send an unmanned craft to land on the Moon and move around and send back data. The 3rd step is taking samples and coming back to Earth.
On the internationalisation of space:
We want to have friendly international cooperation - which we already have with countries like Brazil. We've set up a Sino-German space company. We have cooperation with France and the European Space Agency. We're also developing Asian satellites. We're very optimistic about the future - space won't be monopolised by just a few countries. Many developing countries such as Thailand and Malaysia are putting more emphasis on their space programmes.