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Government officials, astronomers and other interested parties in Japan welcomed China’s success in putting a manned spacecraft into orbit Wednesday, though some fretted over its military and diplomatic implications.

“I’d like to offer my heartfelt congratulations. I hope the voyage will proceed with full care until it returns safely,” remarked Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda.

Fukuda brushed aside fears that Japan, which has no plans to pursue manned space flight, is falling behind China.

“We have many things to do in the way of unmanned (flights). Japan has its own way,” he said.

Takeo Kawamura, minister of education, sports, science and technology, said he feels a sense of deep respect as the launch “indicates that China has sophisticated space technology.”

But Keio University professor Tomoyuki Kojima, an expert in Chinese politics, said that while China is ostensibly opposed to the military use of outer space, this launch apparently has military purposes.

“Its stance to counter U.S. military power in the medium to long term has become clearer. At least in Asia, China now has the capacity to take the lead in the field of space development,” he said.

Space technology analyst Nobuo Nakatomi said Japan would likely suffer the severest blow from China’s success.

“A country capable of launching (a manned spacecraft) anytime will have a large influence in terms of diplomacy at the United Nations and military affairs. Moves to buy products from a country succeeding in manned space flight may also occur.”

Hiroo Hieda, who works at the semigovernmental Institute for Future Technology, said the launch shows that China has a considerable degree of collective strength in the space area.

He called for transparency, however, stating that China’s disclosure of information is insufficient in comparison with that of the United States and Europe.

Hiroki Matsuo, a member of the Space Activities Commission, believes that China’s success will prompt Japan to reconsider its goals for space development, including its policy of focusing on unmanned exploration.

“Discussions on manned space flight have long been simmering in Japan,” he said.

Astronauts also welcomed the launch, including Russell Schweickart of the U.S., Aleksei Leonov of Russia and Japan’s Chiaki Mukai and Mamoru Mohri, who were at an astronauts’ meeting in Tokyo that started Monday.

Mohri said, “It is an accomplishment that an Asian nation has launched as planned.”

The group learned of the success during a tour of the Japan Space Exploration Agency’s Tsukuba Space Center, located near Tokyo.

In the runup to the launch, Mukai ruled out fears over Beijing’s insistence on using Chinese technology, saying: “It is good that ways to access space has increased. I think China will join the circle of international co-ordination before long.”

Chinese residents in Japan voiced unreserved joy at the launch.

“The space development technology of our home country has reached its top level with this,” remarked a 53-year-old teacher at a Chinese school in Kobe. “I hope this will prompt children to have an interest in space.”

Meanwhile, a woman who runs a Chinese grocery store said, “It’s unbelievable. Japan lost in this field.”

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