04 February 2013
Talking to journalists at ESOC in Darmstadt, Germany, ESA's Director for Human Space Flight and Operations, Thomas Reiter, was outlining the status of Europe's space cooperation engagement with China: "We have started to intensify the mutual exchange between our counterparts in China and Europe. Last year in May there was a first working meeting which was basically related on aspects of rendezvous and docking, life support systems and astronaut training. Then in November there was a visit of representatives from the Chinese Astronaut Training Centre at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne. Just two weeks ago there was the counter visit of our specialists in China in order to see how they are training, what they are doing differently, what kind of requirements do they have.

In parallel, our Director General agreed beginning of fall last year with his counterpart in China, Mr. Wang, that we start in a technical working group to look at possibilities to do scientific utilisation of their future manned missions, means scientific utilisation of their human rated starts of the Tiangong or even end of the decade on their space station and to look for technical compatibilities or incompatibilities that could be interesting in case at a later point in time, end of the decade, maybe a European vehicle or an international vehicle could dock to the Chinese Space Station. This is the status. We have not yet started any direct developments but we are at least trying to understand where are the links where are the possibilities that we have, where are the options for cooperation. Maybe one thing I should mention: in the area of space situational awareness we were actually proposing a cooperative mission with China in the area of space weather, the so-called Kuafu mission. China offered the possibility to bring a European payload on one of their satellites which was supposed to go to the Earth-Sun Lagrange Point L1 and to provide a launcher for two European-build satellites for polar orbiting sensors to follow developments of the sun and space weather. Unfortunately, due to the financial constrains we had this proposal did not find support in the Ministerial Conference. So we had, unfortunately to stop it. But China is very well aware that this was not due to a lack of interest but that this was caused by the overall economic situation. Maybe there is a way in the future to build on that but that I can not tell. For the moment we could not engage in that programme. But you see there are quite some links which are already lasting for many years and we are trying to consolidate that links.
At the moment it is really an understanding of how they are operating and which possibilities we have for the future. I think it is also important to see the political aspect to be a kind of mediator between other space agencies and China to combine European interests vis-a-vis China's space flight programme as a whole, not only human space flight, also other areas. ... this is paving the way for future cooperation. But, again, those need to be decided in our Ministerial Conference, maybe in 2014 or a later point in time."
English explaination is starting at 57 min