WASHINGTON — The heads of the U.S. and Chinese civil space agencies will exchange visits next year to discuss potential cooperation in space exploration, including human spaceflight, according to a U.S.-China joint statement issued Nov. 17.

The statement came as U.S. President Barack Obama was wrapping up his official state visit to Beijing Nov. 15-18 for talks with Chinese President HuJintao. In the statement, the two sides pledged to expand cooperative ties in a number of areas, including space, civil aviation, agriculture and health.

“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,” the statement said, which was posted on the White House Web site. “Both sides welcome reciprocal visits of the NASA Administrator and the appropriate Chinese counterpart in 2010.”

Then-NASA Administrator Mike Griffin traveled to China in 2006, marking the first such official visit by the head of the U.S. space agency. The United States and China have maintained low-level contacts and data exchanges relating to space activity for several years, but not undertaken any joint missions. China, one of three countries capable of independently launching people into space — the others are the United States and Russia — is not a participant in the international space station program.

Warren Ferster is the Editor-in-Chief of SpaceNews and is responsible for all the news and editorial coverage in the weekly newspaper, the spacenews.com Web site and variety of specialty publications such as show dailies. He manages a staff of seven reporters...