China official says 'The Martian' movie shows Americans want space cooperation

Cinema still: The Martian starring Matt Damon (left) and Jessica Chastain (second from left). PHOTO: 20TH CENTURY FOX

BEIJING (Reuters) - A senior Chinese space official said the Hollywood blockbuster "The Martian" is proof that Americans want to see the United States and China cooperate in space, but lamented Washington's ban on collaboration between the two countries.

Advancing China's space programme is a priority for Beijing, with President Xi Jinping calling for the country to establish itself as a space power.

China insists its programme is for peaceful purposes, but the US Defense Department has highlighted its increasing space capabilities, saying it was pursuing activities aimed to prevent adversaries from using space-based assets in a crisis.

Apart from its civilian ambitions, Beijing has tested anti-satellite missiles, and the US Congress has banned Nasa from engaging in cooperation with its Chinese counterpart due to security concerns.

Xu Dazhe, the chief of the China National Space Administration, promised China's space plans would become"increasingly transparent".

"When I saw the US film 'The Martian', which envisages China-US cooperation on a Mars rescue mission under emergency circumstances, it shows that our US counterparts very much hope to cooperate with us," Xu told reporters at a briefing.

"However, it's very regrettable that, for reasons everyone is aware of, there are currently some impediments to cooperation," Xu said.

China's space programme would continue to serve national security and economic interests, in what Beijing calls a"military-civil" development strategy, Xu said, but added that such efforts would be used in support of "world peace".

"I believe that on this matter, China is more and more open, and I hope our American friends can take note," Xu said.

China's space budget was still only about one-tenth of the United States' outlays, Xu said, but he did not elaborate. According to Chinese state media, China spends about US$2 billion (S$2.7 billion) a year on its space programme, though details are vague.

Despite Washington's ban on cooperation, the two governments held their first civil space talks in September to discuss each other's plans and policies.

China said this week that it would launch a "core module"for its first space station some time around 2018, part of a plan to have a permanent manned space station in service around 2022.

China was also preparing to launch a Mars probe in 2020, which would reach the planet in 2021, the official Xinhua news agency has said. "The Martian", which depicts China supplying a rocket to launch a Nasa rescue package into orbit as part of a harrowing mission to save a US astronaut stranded on Mars, was a big success at the Chinese box office.

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