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China's first astronaut returns UN flag

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan (left) meets first Chinese astronaut Yang Liwei (right) in New York. (UN)
May 19, 2004

— United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Kofi Annan met Wednesday with China's first astronaut, who presented the UN leader with a flag of the world body that he took with him on his mission.

Congratulating China on its first successful manned space flight, the Secretary-General told a small delegation that included Beijing's Ambassador to the UN, Wang Guangya, and Col. Yang Liwei, the "taikonaut," that it was a "great achievement" watched by the Chinese people and people around the world.

"Let me thank you very much for bringing this flag that has gone into space with Colonel Yang," the Secretary-General said upon receiving the UN flag. "And I think the fact that he took a UN flag with him and then brought it back to this Headquarters is a sign of great importance and is an affirmation of your belief and your support for this organization."

"Space travel always excites the imagination," said Annan to the delegation. "We in this organization have taken a very keen interest in space, particularly in the peaceful uses of outer space."

"And I would want to wish China greater success in its space exploration, and to thank you and the Government for this sign of solidarity with the peoples of the world and its support for this organization," concluded Annan.

A 4-by-6 foot United Nations flag, folded, lies next to a model of the Shenzhou V spacecraft that flew it into space. (UN)

Two United Nations flags were flown aboard China's first manned space mission in October 2003.

Following a formal request by China to the UN Secretary-General in July 2003, the flags were provided for flight as a symbol of its firm commitment to use outer space for peaceful purposes and for the betterment of all mankind.

During a formal ceremony held on Sept. 4, 2003, the flags were presented to the Permanent Representative of China to the United Nations in Vienna, Ambassador Zhang Yan by the Director-General of the United Nations Office at Vienna, Antonio Maria Costa, on behalf of the Secretary-General, at the Vienna International Center. Also attending the ceremony were Sergio Camacho Lara, Director of the UN's Office for Outer Space Affairs and representatives from China's Manned Space Engineering Program Office. Officers of the UN Security and Safety Section provided an Honour Guard for the flags.

Immediately after the event, officials from China's Manned Space Engineering Program Office, who had traveled from China to receive the flags, hand carried the flags to their space center to prepare them for flight.

During a live television broadcast on Oct. 15, 2003, from 211 miles above Earth, Yang Liwei, commander of the Shenzhou V, displayed a small United Nations flag with an accompanying flag of China, which appeared on the giant front screens at mission control in Beijing. The second flag, measuring four by six feet, was placed on board the spacecraft prior to launch, an event which was notarized by the Beijing Notarization Office.

Yang's UN visit began a multi-day tour of the US that will reportedly include stops in Washington, DC and Florida.

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