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Talks Open on Establishing Asia-Pacific Space Organization - 2003-11-11

Representatives of 14 countries and the United Nations are meeting in Beijing this week to lay out plans for a new space organization headed by China.

The group will be called the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization, with its headquarters in Beijing. The aim of the organization will be to launch a system of eight satellites to monitor the natural conditions of the earth and allow all members to share the information.

Chinese organizers say the other eight member countries are Thailand, Bangladesh, Iran, Malaysia, Mongolia, Pakistan, Peru and the Philippines.

Representatives of the nine nations have been meeting in Beijing since Monday to finalize a draft of the articles that will govern the organization, which is set to begin its work next year.

Five other nations - Brazil, Chile, Indonesia, South Korea and Ukraine - along with a United Nations team, joined the Beijing meeting as observers.

It is not yet clear how the project will be financed, but analysts say it appears China will likely carry all or most of the costs. All of the nations involved are developing countries and some rank among the world's poorest.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said the effort seeks to involve poor nations that would otherwise not have access to space technology.

"The Chinese government will not take into account whether the member countries are poor or rich," said Mr. Liu. "In terms of having a right to access space technology, all countries in the world are equal."

Analysts say Beijing's effort to create a multi-national space organization is yet another move by China to position itself as a global leader in technology.

China sought to gain international prestige last month when it became the third nation, after the United States and Russia, to send a manned rocket into orbit.

Showing new confidence gained from the successful space launch, Chinese space officials announced last week they plan to launch a two-crewmember spaceship within the next two years.