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Lonely Out in Space, China Looks for Partners and Business

TAIPEI (TheStreet) -- China has asked before that the West let it join the exploration of outer space. It might as well have reported sightings of three-eyed green men riding on saucers.

Now it suddenly has a shot at working with foreign countries and their aerospace contractors.

Last month China made a robotic soft launch to the moon, took a few snaps and left. Technically, that's enough to become the world's third country to reach the symbolic sphere that orbits earth. This month the head of China's space industry, Xu Dazhe, politely asked again via his country's state media about working more deeply with other countries in outer space. He meant the West.

Because of its peaceful and successful space missions since 1999, China may finally get replies to its calls for cooperation, despite lingering worries about aerospace technology theft and use of space to spy.

Translation into business terms: aerospace contracts.

China wants to visit outer space mainly to say it has visited outer space, which is good for rallying nationalism at home, just as other big countries have. It shows no signs of budgetary constraints or domestic disagreement about whether space program is worth it. And China wants to work with other countries to learn from them. Other countries might even learn from China now, making for more of a cooperation among equals more than before. China has shown it can reach the moon without foreign help on a path toward its own space station into orbit within 10 years. (It's barred from the International Space Station.)

"What's different now is that China is more capable," says Lin Chong-pin, a Taipei-based China scholar and former deputy Taiwan defense minister. "More participation would dilute the China threat issue, and the Chinese are smart. They know they can learn from others."

China isn't releasing an outline of the cooperation it wants. But most of the space-traveling world has effectively left the era of looking for life on Mars to focus more on earth-related missions such as national defense, environmental research and satellite communications. China has already helped other countries launch satellites, including a Dec. 21 launch for Bolivia.

These terrestrial interests may be the launch pad for what looks like inevitable cooperation.

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