The United States and China have agreed to step up discussions on cooperative space exploration, as both countries separately pursue ambitious plans to send a manned mission to the Moon by around 2020.

US president Barack Obama and Chinese president Hu Jintaro have agreed during a summit in Beijing this week to formalize joint space talks, beginning with exchange visits of their respective space agency chiefs next year.

“The United States and China look forward to expanding discussions on space science cooperation and starting a dialogue on human space flight and space exploration, based on the principles of transparency, reciprocity and mutual benefit,” a US-China joint statement released Tuesday said. “Both sides welcome reciprocal visits of the NASA Administrator and the appropriate Chinese counterpart in 2010.”

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