December 27, 2016 / 4:07 AM / 7 months ago

China says space program must help protect national security

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China's President Xi Jinping looks on before meeting with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (not pictured) at the Great Halll of the People in Beijing, China December 2, 2016.Nicolas Asouri/Pool

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's space program must help protect the country's national security, but China is dedicated to the peaceful use of space and opposes a space arms race, the government said in a policy paper issued on Tuesday.

President Xi Jinping has called for China to establish itself as a space power, and it has tested anti-satellite missiles, in addition to its civilian aims

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

In its policy paper, the government said the space program was an important part of the country's overall development strategy.

"China always adheres to the principle of the use of outer space for peaceful purposes, and opposes the weaponisation of or an arms race in outer space," it said.

The program must also "meet the demands of economic, scientific and technological development, national security and social progress", the paper added, without elaborating on the security part.

However it included past weapons tests as part of the history of its space program, in which the military has all along been deeply involved with.

"Over the past 60 years of remarkable development since its space industry was established in 1956, China has made great achievements in this sphere, including the development of atomic and hydrogen bombs, missiles, man-made satellites, manned spaceflight and lunar probes," it said.

China completed its longest manned space mission to date last month, when two astronauts spent 30 days aboard the Tiangong 2 space laboratory, or "Heavenly Palace 2", which China is using to carry out experiments ahead of a longer-range plan to have a permanent manned space station around 2022.

The white paper also repeated a plan to launch its first Mars probe by 2020 and to land the first probe ever on the dark side of the moon in 2018, but gave no details about a previously mooted goal of landing a Chinese person on the moon by 2036.

Reporting by Cate Cadell; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry

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