China successfully carried out its first docking exercise between two unmanned spacecraft Thursday.

The Shenzhou 8 spacecraft joined the Tiangong (Heavenly Palace) 1 module about 340 km (211 miles) above Earth, in a manoeuvre carried live on state television in the early hours of the morning.

China is now equipped with the basic technology and capacity required for the construction of a space station, said Zhou Jianping, chief designer of China’s manned space programme.

“This will make it possible for China to carry out space exploration on a larger scale,” he told the state-run Xinhua news agency.

We believe that making this breakthrough and mastering the space docking technology is a meaningful and historic breakthrough for our country and a huge technical leap forward, Wu Ping, spokeswoman for China's Manned Space Engineering Programme, told a news conference.

President Hu Jintao, who is in France for the G-20 summit, sent a congratulatory message on the success of the country’s first-ever space docking.

“Breakthroughs in and acquisition of space docking technologies are vital to the three-phase development strategy of our manned space program,” Hu said.

China also plans an unmanned moon landing and deployment of a moon rover in 2012. China aims to have a fully fledged space station by about 2020.