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Chinese launch sparks Asian debate

Some in Asia congratulated China on its entry into the club of spacefaring nations, while others felt threatened.

China’s launch of its first manned spacecraft left some Asians flushed with pride Wednesday, while others saw it as scary evidence of the communist giant’s growing power.

AS THE SHENZHOU 5 craft shot into space from a desert launch pad in northwest China, TV stations in some parts of Asia broke into newscasts to report the event. The news quickly spread during the morning rush hour commute.

“I am very happy. We finally made it. Not many countries can reach space,” said Alexander Chow, 27, an accountant in the China-ruled territory of Hong Kong. “It’s a day that every Chinese is proud of.”

Angeline Lo, 22, a Hong Kong medical student, added: “I am delighted. It marks a breakthrough in China’s space development.”

But in Japan, Miki Kobayashi, 28, said the launch marked a defeat for her country, which has seen its once-mighty economy decline as China’s has grown rapidly in recent years.

“I feel like we have lost,” said Kobayashi, a dental hygienist in Tokyo. “Japan had worked so hard on its space program. I guess China is rich. I hope Japan can catch up again.”

China has explicitly said it opposes the “weaponization” of space. But some worried that the launch was a sign that China’s military was becoming more powerful and could become a new global bully.

“China is more of a threat than ever. Not just for Asia, but for the whole world,” said Akira Machida, 54, a white collar worker in Tokyo.

But a spokesman for Japan’s space agency, JAXA, praised China’s accomplishment and said it could benefit space technology worldwide.

“It seems we have a new rival. But since this is not a war, China is not a threat,” said the spokesman, Hiroshi Inoue.

Kind words came from Vietnam, which has long had an uneasy relationship with China. The Vietnamese fought a border war with the Chinese in 1979 — China’s last major foreign conflict.

“This will be a great achievement of China in conquering outer space,” Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Dung said in a statement.

Some of China’s neighbors have long viewed the country to be a backward, undeveloped country. Wednesday’s space launch had them reconsidering their views.

“I am shocked,” said Monica Kim, an office worker in Seoul, South Korea. “Usually, such technology is known to come from well-developed countries, and especially, manned space launch requires advanced technology.”

But 44-year-old Lee Won-hak, a designer in Seoul, said the launch didn’t surprise him, although it was making him concerned about China’s growing power.

“I feel a bit threatened by the country’s development,” Lee said.

Taiwan has long lived with the China threat. Chinese leaders consider the island — 100 miles (160 kilometers) off their coast — to be part of China’s territory that should be recovered, by force if necessary. A civil war split the two sides in 1949.

In Taiwan’s capital, Taipei, engineer Frank Kung, 49, said the space launch would help China’s military.

“Whatever China does, it does to strengthen its defense, so this is not good for Taiwan,” Kung said.

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