collaborate with China on civilian space projects but will not pursue broad engagement with the military-dominated Chinese space program, NASA's chief administrator said Monday.
Michael Griffin, who arrived in Beijing on Saturday, is the highest-ranking NASA official to visit China. His trip - which he called "a first date" - represents a turnaround for Washington, which has largely shunned contacts with the secretive Chinese space program, and follows personal lobbying by China's president for the exchanges.
In a step forward, Griffin told reporters that NASA was setting up working groups with the China National Space Administration to explore cooperation on climatic research and robotic exploration.
"We believe it might be a productive thing to do and we're going to explore it,'' he said.
Griffin, however, ruled out open-ended collaboration with the Chinese agency because of its close ties with the Chinese military.
"NASA is unable to cooperate with a military-based space program,'' he said. Despite Washington's misgivings, he said the U.S. wants to see a quicker pace in cooperation between the two space programs.
NASA's tentative outreach to China follows the European Union's more wholehearted embrace, welcoming the Chinese space program as a partner in an expensive effort to set up a satellite-based global positioning system.
Griffin met Sunday with his Chinese counterpart, Sun Laiyan, the civilian director of the CNSA, which has carried out two successful manned space flights and is preparing for a third launch as early as next year.
Sun gave Griffin a copy of "The Analects,'' a 2,000-year-old collection of sayings by the Chinese philosopher Confucius. Sun told Griffin the classic could help him run the U.S. space program.
"If you read just half of this book, it will help you manage NASA very well," he said. "You will find the strategy.''
Griffin gave Sun the Chinese and U.S. flags that flew on a NASA space shuttle mission last July.
On Monday the official Xinhua News Agency quoted Sun as saying he had offered Griffin a four-point proposal to boost space cooperation between the countries.
It includes holding annual meetings on possible joint ventures, and defining specific areas for cooperation.
Earlier, Griffin tried to downplay expectations about the trip, saying it was only a "get-acquainted session'' with Chinese officials.
China's first manned space flight in 2003 made it only the third nation after Russia and the United States to fire a human into orbit on its own. China's second manned flight took place last October.
China has tried to make its program appear more open, letting U.S. officials and foreign reporters visit its Beijing mission control center and the Gobi Desert launch base for its manned flights.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said last week that Beijing hopes for closer collaboration with the United States, Russia and other governments on space efforts.
"We hope that through such ties, we could establish a stable and friendly cooperation in outer space and explore the possibility of the peaceful use of outer space,'' ministry spokesman Qin Gang said.
During his stay, Griffin was scheduled to meet with Chinese Minister of Science and Technology Xu Guanhua, give a talk at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and tour the National Satellite Meteorological Center in Beijing. Griffin also is to travel to the launch base in the isolated Gobi Desert town of Jiuquan.
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