China and South American region eye cooperation in science and technology

By Maria Jose Haro Sly Source:Global Times Published: 2020/1/16 19:08:40

A Long March 2D rocket carrying Argentina's experimental satellite CubeBug-1 is launched at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Northwest China's Gansu Province on April 26, 2013. Photo: Xinhua

When a project develops new technologies, lasts more than 30 years, and is realized with two completely different countries located on the antipodes of the globe, a "community of shared future" is created. That is the case with CBERS, the China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellite program that recently put its sixth remote sensing satellite in orbit. 

Despite the different developmental paths - Brazil is swinging on its own political and economic pendulums while China is going straight forward in the economic and technological race - both countries got around the difficulties to reach the technological goals. 

This is win-win cooperation with strong investments. The project started with 70 percent Chinese funds and the rest provided by Brazil. Now the two countries have a 50:50 share in the project. 

The CBERS program has been budgeted at $150 million for the development, construction and launch of the first two satellites. Each satellite costs about $50 million. Until CBERS-4 was launched, the pool of financial and technological resources between Brazil and China was around $300 million.

One of the big outcomes is the building capacity and human resources in this area. Pereira, Brazilian manager of the CBERS program, told the Global Times, "The space partnership with China is quite wide, including the joint development of satellites, the exchange of researchers and students, and the research partnerships in the areas of space science and ionosphere." 

The space sector in Brazil has benefited from CBERS, generating a series of private companies destined to create solutions for satellites. The aerospace sector in Brazil has created more than 22,000 high quality jobs and more than $6.5 billion in high value added exports for Brazil.

Costa Vaz of Orbital Engineering, a company producing solar generators for satellites, said, "China is the first trade partner of Brazil, and the CBERS is the most successful example of South-South high technology cooperation. The most important outcome of the program was the development of the capacity to assemble and integrate big satellites, as well as pulling the national innovation complex in a high tech industry as the space that few countries can manage. Nonetheless, the program will need some adjustments like redefining the mission and moving forward to the new age of micro and nano satellites."

But what matters is how to expand and multiply this successful experience in the region?

Taking to the stars

Chinese professors at Renmin University have understood Argentinean economist Raul Prebisch. Half a century ago, Prebisch wrote about the deterioration in terms of trade of commodities and food vis-à-vis industrialized goods. 

He stated that one of the characteristics of technical progress was that it did not penetrate equally into all activities, which was of considerable importance for the structural differences among national development processes worldwide. 

Still today, the core of bilateral relations between China and most South American countries is concentrated in the export of resources and the import of technologies. It is clear that Latin America remains as a global suppliers of primary products, which needs to be changed, and there is a lot of space to cooperate in many more fields. 

For example, the CBERS in Brazil is managed by the National Institute of Space Research INPE (for its acronym in Portuguese). INPE is located in Sao Jose dos Campos in Sao Paulo, a hub of Brazilian aeronautics company EMBRAER and other major defense industries. 

EMBRAER has been successful in the aviation market and signed an agreement with Harbin Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation to assemble the airplane ERJ 145. This ­sector still provides big opportunities to grow and EMBRAER has a lot of ­components to develop by itself to progress in the aviation value chain.

On the other hand, INPE was the test center for Argentinean satellite series SAC. Developed by INVAP, the state high-tech company undertakes projects for nuclear, aerospace, chemical, medical, petroleum and services for the government sector. 

It was until Argentina built its own Center for High Tech Testing (CEATSA in Spanish) in 2011 for developing the ARSAT satellite series. This sector will be a priority for the new government as Argentine President Alberto Fernandez has reestablished the Ministry of Science and Technology with the aim to increase investments in the productive sector of the country. 

Emmanuel Guerra, a diplomat from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Argentina, said, "Cooperation in the nuclear and space fields have been substantive and relevant for Argentina. In the space area, there are two major projects: The space station for deep space observation installed in the province of Neuqúen, which is already operational, and the radio telescope under construction in San Juan. In the nuclear area, a nuclear power plant project to be built with Chinese technology [Hualong-1] is under negotiation. It is not known what the new administration's approach to new projects will be, but it is expected that China will continue to play a key role in these areas." 

Energizing growth

There is significant space for cooperation with Argentina, though it will be necessary to find more common areas for joint research and technological developments. 

Additionally, Argentinean nuclear energy is important for the region. In 2015, Argentina negotiated the construction of two nuclear power plants with China. 

The South American country negotiated Chinese financing for a natural uranium and heavy water nuclear plant, in which it could use 70 percent of Argentinean technology. 

China proposed the installation of a light water reactor that uses enriched uranium with its own technology. But they faced Washington's opposition to the installation of Chinese nuclear power plants.

The Argentine government hinted at cancelling those projects during Trump's visit to Buenos Aires in 2018. The last communication of the previous government was the decision to build one nuclear plant with Chinese ­technology. 

The construction of the two plants, one with Argentinean technology and another with Chinese, would have allowed the South American country to continue growing in energy production. When the projects generate technological demands on the national industry, it brings more benefits to the country. It is highly possible that the nuclear plants will be re-discussed and finally Argentina will go ahead with win-win nuclear cooperation with China. 

Argentina in particular will need investment and innovation in energy production, since the country has significant energy deficit. 

Development of traditional and green energy will find new opportunities in the country. Energy is a primary condition for economic and social development and a major constraint for developing countries. 

Argentina and Brazil have energy resources, investments and the development of technology is necessary to benefit from them in a sustainable way. 

Discussion nowadays in South America centers around how to balance a productive model based on adding value to natural resources in a sustainable and pro-environmental way. 

With ups and downs, traditions in aviation, nuclear and satellites technologies harbor potential to expand cooperation in South America. 

For getting more outcomes for the cooperation and explore new fields between China and Latin America, we need to understand each other. Social sciences and in particular a new discussion of development is needed for building a new international order for the 21st century. 

Chinese experience in development and technological innovation is a good example. 

A more even development in the world is not only possible, but a sine qua non requirement for creating a community of a shared future for mankind.
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