Official praises the leaders who decided to launch the programme 11 years ago China's manned space flight programme has succeeded in bringing Chinese people together, the programme's deputy director said yesterday. Hu Shixiang paid tribute to the country's third generation of leaders, headed by former president Jiang Zemin, for deciding to launch the programme 11 years ago. Mr Hu recalled that the leaders felt that the programme would have tremendous significance in politics, economics, national defence and technology. 'The exhilarating response of people in Hong Kong and all over the country [to Yang Liwei's successful space flight] shows that the programme has achieved the objective of enhancing the cohesion of the Chinese people,' said Mr Hu, who is also vice-director of the General Armament Department of the PLA. 'It also confirmed the far-sighted vision of our third generation of leaders. 'Unity is strength. Once we have that we can do what the people want us to do. This social benefit [engendered by the space programme] is beyond comparison.' Mr Hu said sending an astronaut to space and securing his safe return to Earth could not have been achieved without good systems and leadership. The successful space trip by China's first man in space showed that the nation had the ability to undertake big projects, he said. Mr Hu rejected criticism that China, as a relatively poor country, should have used the money spent on the manned space flight programme to relieve poverty and address other social ills. 'China spends just over one billion [US dollars] a year on the programme, or just one-tenth of the 15 billion spent by the United States,' he said. 'The amount that China ploughs into the programme is appropriate to its current conditions and national strength.' Mr Hu also brushed aside the view that China's grasp of space technology would pose a threat to the world. He said that despite inventing gunpowder, the Chinese people did not develop weapons to threaten other countries, probably because of 2,000 years of Confucian influence. Nor had the Chinese established any colonies overseas, Mr Hu added. He said China had long possessed atomic and hydrogen bombs but had not threatened any countries with these weapons. The delegation of China's first manned space flight programme ends its six-day visit to Hong Kong today and will head for Macau for a two-day visit before returning to the mainland.