Image via WikipediaSPACE.com -- China Hopes for Place on Space Station
The Chinese have announced that they hope to be included in the international space station (ISS) project, which has been in operation since 2000 under the control of US, Russian and European astronauts. China has only recently become the third nation to launch a man into space on its own, and if it joins the ISS it would be the 17th nation participating in the long-term orbital experimentation platform. The US has thus far relented from including the Chinese in ISS missions because of the ideological stigma of a strong Communist Chinese space program operating as an equal with NASA and its now democratic Russian partners.
China frightened many in the scientific community last year when it obliterated an aging weather satellite with a ground-based anti-satellite missile. It was the first time any nation, the US and Russia included, had conducted such a test of a land-based missile and has fueled concerns around the world that we are on the verge of an arms race in space. Such experiments can pose real threats to the long-term space exploration capability of mankind, as debris clutters and inhibits near-Earth orbit, making missions to the furtherest reaches of the solar system more complicated and dangerous.
China will launch a lunar probe to map the moon's surface later this month, though they are significantly behind their Japanese rivals, who have just this week seen their lunar orbiter around Earth's only natural satellite. The regional space race will become even more heated once India launches their lunar module next April.