As India on Tuesday stole the march over China by launching a mission to Mars, Beijing called for "joint efforts" to ensure peace in outer space.
A rocket carrying the unmanned Mangalyaan orbiter lifted off this afternoon, making India the fourth country after the US, Russia and EU to send probes to Mars. It is due to orbit the red planet in September next year.
"Outer space is shared by the entire mankind. Every country has the right to make peaceful exploration and use of outer space," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a media briefing when he was asked about India's Mars probe.
At the same time, he said, the international community should make "joint efforts to ensure enduring peace and sustainable development of outer space".
Asked whether China is apprehensive of India's space programme, Hong said relations between the two countries are on a path of steady growth. "Political mutual trust between our two countries has increased and mutual cooperation has expanded," he said.
However, the official Chinese media alleged that India is undertaking ambitious ventures to overtake the country's space programme.
The state-run Global Times daily criticised India's space programme, saying it sent a probe to Mars despite having millions of poor people to gain an advantage over China.
"India has an ambitious goal of leading Asia in this area, especially having an advantage over China," it said in an editorial titled "India's space ambition offers clue to China".
"So far, only the US, Russia and EU have succeeded in Mars exploration. Other attempts to reach Mars, including China's Yinghuo-1 mission and Japan's Nozomi mission, have failed.
"As poor as India is, New Delhi managed to carry out its Mars exploration program with a budget of only $73 million, much less than the spending of China and Japan."
India is confronted with a complicated public opinion environment on space development, similar to that which China has to face, it said.
"India is poor, so is China when compared with its Western counterparts. New Delhi has set China as its target, while China views the advanced level of the US and Russia as a reference," it said.
"China has achieved a leap forward in the development of manned space flight and space station technology. It has already been in advance of India," it added.
Besides sending probes to the Moon, China is currently building a space station to rival Russia's Mir, the international space station also used by the US.
"China is building its strategic power as well as developing its livelihood. Becoming a great power is required to manage all-round development. That's why India won't give up developing space, aircraft carrier and nuclear submarines in spite of its poor conditions," the editorial said.