Guizhou endeavors to protect China’s FAST telescope while developing economy

China’s Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST) in Pingtang, Guizhou province.

Guizhou Province, home to China’s Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST), has made great efforts to ensure normal performance of the telescope while continuing to develop its economy, Science and Technology Daily reported.

FAST, the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope, has brought a tourism boom to the once-poor Pingtang County, southwest China’s Guizhou Province, where it was built.

Local media reported that the county achieved almost 5.5 billion yuan in tourism revenue during the first half of 2018, up 38.7 percent from the previous year. About 5.1 million tourists visited the area during the same period, a year-on-year growth of 40.6 percent.

The county has set a daily limit of 2,000 tourists and implemented restrictions to make sure the telescope doesn’t impact tourists.

For example, tourists are required to pass several security checks and deposit all their electronics at the visitor center such as cell phones, smart bracelets and tablet computers before visiting the telescope. Additionally, they can only overlook the telescope from a purpose-made viewing platform.

Those who want to take photos can rent film cameras at the site.

“Although it is troublesome, we can totally understand. We don’t want to cause interference to the telescope,” said a tourist.

Moreover, those living within five kilometers of the telescope have already been relocated.

The county has also shut down nearby radio stations, mobile communication base stations, and mines to save the telescope from interference of peripheral radio frequency signals, so that it can capture extremely faint radio waves from deep space objects, said Zhang Shuxin, deputy manager of the FAST project of the National Astronomical Observatories of China (NAOC).

The electromagnetic environment is also of great scientific significance, Jiang Peng, chief engineer of the FAST project of NAOC noted, adding that the current overall quality of the electromagnetic environment of the telescope is good.

Tourism has promoted local economic development, contributing to poverty alleviation. However, how to balance scientific exploration and local economic development while making the best of the telescope is an issue that both NAOC and the province need to confront together.

Chinese astronomers are expected to begin using FAST in 2019, Jiang noted.

Chinese probe to reach Mars in 2021

An artist’s rendition of China’s Mars rover.

China plans to launch a probe to Mars in 2020, which is expected to reach the red planet in 2021, said an official of the China National Space Administration (CNSA) at a sub-forum of the World Conference on Science Literacy 2018, held on Sept. 18, Beijing News reported.

China is currently planning deep space exploration programs, said Li Guoping, Director General of the Department of System Engineering of China National Space Administration (CNSA) at the sub-forum on Space Exploration and the Future of Mankind.

The probe will launch in July 2020, and is expected to land on Mars in 2021. China plans to conduct its second Mars exploration mission in 2028, with the intention of bringing back Martian soil for scientific investigation, Li noted.

China will also launch the heavy-lift carrier rocket, Long March-9, in 2028. The rocket will exceed 90 meters in length, with a diameter of 10 meters.

Li explained that it will be able to carry a weight of 140 tons into low-Earth orbit, five times that of the Long March-5.

The country will also step up its efforts to use space technology to monitor global climate change, said Li, adding that projects using two specific satellites have already been launched, one for monitoring atmospheric environment and the other for terrestrial ecosystems.

The Chinese government holds a positive attitude towards commercial rocket companies who have launched small, self-developed rockets recently, Li disclosed, saying that the government is working on details to reinforce management of their launches and activities.

Tourism development injects new impetus into Africa’s economy

Africa is attracting an increasing number of Chinese tourists, which is injecting new impetus into Africa’s economy.

The number of Chinese tourists travelling to Africa witnessed annual growth of 30 percent since 2012, according to latest data by global ratings agency Moody’s.

Kenya, with the highest temperature of its capital Nairobi staying below 30 degrees centigrade all year round, saw the largest growth of Chinese tourists among all African countries, said the agency.

Besides Kenya, Mauritius and Morocco are also becoming more and more attractive to Chinese tourists. Egypt and South Africa still remain popular destinations.

In addition, an increasing number of Africans are travelling abroad, with the steady growth of Africa’s economy and middle-income population, said a report released by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

For some island countries in Africa, tourism is even a pillar of their economy. Data from the UN conference revealed that tourism revenue in the Seychelles accounts for 62 percent of its GDP.

Rapid tourism development not only increases Africa’s foreign currency earnings, but also improves employment as well as women’s rights and interests in African countries.

The continual growth in tourism is expected to provide 11.7 million jobs in Africa over the next decade. Over one third of African women work in the tourism industry, much higher than the figure for other sectors.

While developing tourism, Africans also hope China will bring advanced and suitable tourism infrastructure and management to Africa while contributing a large number of Chinese tourists.

Positive views of China-Africa ties are mainstream

Since the beginning of the 21st century, China and Africa have added depth and breadth to their bilateral cooperation. This, along with China’s growing popularity in Africa, has drawn particular attention from developed European countries, the US and some emerging economies.

These countries have been shown to be working against China’s involvement in Africa. Meanwhile, they are seen making irresponsible and indiscreet comments on China-Africa cooperation, by right of their dominance in global public opinion. This has presented China-Africa cooperation with complicated international competition.

There are arguments against the stereotype of so-called “Chinese neocolonialism in China.”

First, the colonial era and the period known as the Cold War have ended. These were eras in which countries outside of the continent interfered with Africa’s development. African nations have the right to choose their own paths of development and who they wish to work with. The overall environment for China-Africa cooperation has changed tremendously and African people are the owners of the continent. Learning from China’s development experience and building closer ties with China are a voluntary choice of African countries, rather than a response to China’s pressure.

Second, China has generally been evaluated positively by Africans, making it most persuasive. China-Africa cooperation is often attacked and criticized, but it’s not because China’s African policy is bad or the Chinese government and Chinese companies are not doing well in Africa.

It’s widely believed in Africa that cooperation with China opens a window of opportunity for Africa’s social and economic development, improves Africa’s self-development capabilities and pushes the international community to cooperate with Africa.

Third, the Western world doesn’t have a uniformly negative view of China-African relations. Fair and objective views about cooperation between China and Africa have been on the rise among Westerners. Both China and Africa ought to be confident about this. What we have noticed is that in Western intellectual circles, views reflecting on their traditional assistance policy in Africa and advocating for learning from China’s approach to Africa have been on the rise in recent years.

A rising number of Western publications have run articles speaking positively of the opportunities China has brought to Africa’s development. For instance, McKinsey & Company published a report on China-Africa economic partnerships in June 2017 entitled Dance of the Lions and Dragons. Based on interviews with more than 1,000 Chinese companies operating in eight African countries as well as more than 100 African government and business leaders, the report provided a comprehensive evaluation of economic partnerships between China and Africa and the prospects for bilateral cooperation. Overall, it took an optimistic and positive attitude toward China-Africa economic cooperation. Only by joining hands with China can Africa head toward a brighter future, the report said.

Fourth, cynicism prevalent in the Western world against China is very much an overreaction by major Western powers as their interest in Africa has appeared to be declining versus China’s rising influence in the continent. Four decades have passed since China’s reform and opening-up began, and the comparison between China’s footprint in Africa with that of major global powers is not what it used to be. Although China is a latecomer in terms of cooperation with Africa, and China’s overall investment in Africa and integration into the continent remains at low levels, the country’s African investment has grown at a fast pace and Chinese-invested infrastructure projects have made steady headway, an indication of China’s increasing popularity in Africa. It’s natural that developed European countries and the US have made no concessions and have commented irresponsibly about China-Africa cooperation, speaking on behalf of Western elites’ national interests and their moral superiority, with the intention of handicapping China’s rise in Africa. China doesn’t need to be worried about these views.

Fifth, China-Africa cooperation has yet to be perfect and some problems need to be addressed, such as insufficient awareness of corporate social responsibility on the part of some companies investing in Africa, which provides scope for skepticism and criticism.

Regardless of the noise being made about China-Africa relations, it is anticipated that the big ship of common destiny will surely sail through various obstacles and challenges to the other shore, so long as the two sides stay resolute in bilateral cooperation and hold onto a collaborative mindset.

The author is senior research fellow and director of the Center for Southern African Studies with the Institute of West-Asian and African Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Source: Global Times

Rise in yuan bond buying shows overseas investors’ confidence in China’s economy: analysts

Overseas investors are buying an increasing amount of yuan-denominated bonds despite fluctuations in the yuan in recent months, and experts said it shows that overseas investors have confidence both in the yuan and in China’s economic prospects.

Foreign investors’ trusteeship of yuan-denominated bonds at China Central Depository & Clearing Co reached 1.41 trillion yuan ($206 billion) by the end of August, up by 44.96 percent compared with the end of last year, according to data published by China Central Depository & Clearing on its official website on Tuesday.

The increase in investment comes at a time when the yuan has been under pressure.

In 2018, the yuan has depreciated by about 4.8 percent against the US dollar, based on data from the People’s Bank of China, China’s central bank. Normally, yuan bond yields would decrease in a yuan depreciation cycle, but it appears this has not deterred investors.

“Overseas investors’ buying of bonds at this time shows that they still have confidence in the yuan’s stability in the long term, and that the yuan is of investment value to them as a non-dollar currency,” Xi Junyang, a finance professor at the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, told the Global Times on Thursday.

His view was echoed by Liu Xuezhi, senior analyst at Bank of Communications, who argued that compared with some vulnerable currencies in emerging markets, yuan assets are relatively safe for overseas investors.

“The Chinese economy is facing some turbulence now, mainly because of the trade tension with the US, but that has not, and will not affect the capital market too much,” Liu told the Global Times on Thursday.

Xi also said that despite the yuan’s depreciation, the yuan-denominated bonds’ yield rates are still generally much higher than the yields of overseas currency bonds, arising from the generally high interest rate levels in China, and this is of great appeal to overseas investors.

Data from chinabond.com showed that most yuan bonds’ one-year yield rates stand at about 4 or 5 percent. In comparison, the 10-year yield of Japanese government bonds is only about 0.09 percent, according to data from a Reuters report in July.

“The Chinese government’s relatively tight monetary supply and supervision of liquidity have also pushed up the interest rate level,” Xi told the Global Times.

Opening the market

According to Xi, the government’s push for opening-up of the financial market is also a major stimulus.

On August 30, the government cut the company tax and value-added tax on overseas investors’ proceeds from their investment in the onshore bond market.

“The pace of opening-up in the bond market is faster than in other financial markets like the stock market. Now there are almost no restrictions on overseas investors for yuan-denominated bonds,” Xi said, adding that the government is much stricter about overseas investors’ issuance of bonds in the mainland.

Apart from bond investment, overseas capital is also flowing into the domestic stock market.

Data sent by UBS Securities to the Global Times on Thursday showed that northbound capital reached 1.17 billion yuan via the stock link programs in the past two weeks, compared with the 290 million yuan in southbound investment.

“In general, with the yuan’s internationalization, overseas investors’ need for yuan assets is increasing,” Xi said.

Source: Global Times

Battery technology breakthrough needed for EVs in China

Many have argued that the electric vehicle (EV) sector could finally be an area where China could surpass traditional car manufacturing powers such as Europe, the US and Japan, but without any technological breakthrough for batteries, such talk is just nonsense.

There have been many news reports about China’s investment in the EV sector in recent years. Some suggested that China has lagged behind Europe in making diesel-powered cars and fallen behind the US and Japan in gasoline-powered vehicles, so it has focused on developing EVs.

But how can China overtake these countries if it lacks the right technologies? Only the appropriate technologies could ensure Chinese EVs go mainstream and eventually take over, and only those technologies could help cut costs and significantly increase battery life.

There is a lot of hype about US-based EV maker Tesla, but the company has almost been losing money every quarter. Chinese producer BYD Auto Co has become a main player in the EV sector, but its profit dived more than 80 percent in the first quarter.

Even the biggest EV manufacturers can’t make a profit for two crucial reasons: fast-rising costs and declines in government subsidies.

In 2017, when China sold about 777,000 EVs, the global price for lithium, which at least for now is essential for making EV batteries, increased by four times. Without any technological breakthrough, how could we convert about 30 million vehicles to EVs?

Lead-acid batteries, which can be used by EVs, were around for more than two decades before the first car was invented, but why were they not used in powering the first generation of cars to begin with? That’s because energy density for the lead-acid batteries, at about 90 watt-hours per kilogram (wh/kg), is so low, compared with 8,600 wh/kg for gasoline. Likewise, the energy density is only 240 wh/kg for lithium batteries, which are considered to be more advanced batteries for EVs.

Gasoline is widely used because it’s easy to transport by land or sea.

Therefore, to expand the use of EVs, new technologies are also needed to increase the battery’s efficiency. Apart from technological breakthroughs for batteries, China also needs a new plan to address issues such as battery recycling and government subsidies in the EV industry.

If these batteries are not recycled, then millions of them will be scattered across the country and become an environmental disaster. This problem was not considered in the government’s subsidy program.

While they are not going to become mainstream anytime soon, EVs do hold an advantage in terms of taxi fleets, buses and other fixed-route services, and the government should offer some support for research and development. However, there are also problems in the subsidy program. We have to be cautious about the subsidies we give these companies, because such subsidies also provide scope for corruption.

The article was compiled based on a speech by Liu Ke, vice-chairman of the Association of the Thousand Talents Plan at the 2018 China Top 500 Enterprises Summit in Xi’an, Shaanxi Province.

Source: Global Times

Better coordination with AU to promote B&R in Africa

Since last year, African countries have sought more of a voice in the international arena. In particular, smaller countries on the continent have more say on matters about Africa, and that’s posed new challenges for the Belt and Road (B&R) initiative.

There are several instances of African countries seeking more global influence. For example, on the diplomatic level, the African Union (AU) is on good terms with the UN and is seeking permanent membership on the UN Security Council. When dealing with partnership relations with other regions, African countries are more insistent on proceeding at their own pace.

On economic issues, Africa has shown an increasing awareness of development strategy planning, and the continent has also taken steps toward financial independence. The pursuit of more independence has had both positive and negative impacts on the B&R initiative.

More independent diplomacy by Africa can provide stronger political motivation to extending B&R construction on the continent. It also helps to deflect external criticism and ease resistance to connecting the B&R with African development strategies.

More financial independence could support B&R projects by providing more resources. A rising presence from Africa could bring more third parties in as partners and put the B&R initiative into wider practice.

The negative effects have also come. Africa is underdeveloped and its growth has been restrained in recent years. The idea of “Africa rising” is questioned. Moreover, although Africa is taking a more independent stance, that might not last. There are potential challenges in this process. The AU is intended to represent the whole continent, but it lacks the ability to coordinate with some countries that are reluctant to be represented.

The demands involved in connecting the B&R initiative with African development strategies will be higher. It is not connectivity between two countries any longer – instead, it involves many layers, including global, regional and sub-regional.

Further, connectivity in different fields must take political, security, environmental, public health and social effects into consideration.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, African independence has gained momentum, and AU Commission Chairperson H.E. Moussa Faki Mahamat has pushed for even more independence for Africa.

But because such trends have had mixed effects on B&R construction, some thought should be given in advance on how to cope with it. Both strategy and policy responses should be prepared, to better navigate upcoming opportunities and challenges for the B&R initiative.

First, as to future B&R construction, coordination mechanisms need to be built on African regional, sub-regional and country levels, so that the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) can follow up more effectively.

Second, FOCAC, AU and sub-regional organizations can cooperate and develop evaluation systems for the B&R initiative and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Third, special projects should be set up with the AU and sub-regional organizations. Projects can focus on regional and sub-regional capacity building, peacekeeping, infrastructure construction, technology transfer and projects for youth and women.

Fourth, infrastructure construction cooperation should continue to be stepped up. China will help Africa push forward connectivity on some focal points, among African countries, sub-regional areas and different states within individual countries.

Here, infrastructure comes into play. That involves not only connecting similar types of infrastructure – highways to highways and railways to railways – but also linking different types of transportation. This will require joint effort in different fields, such as connections between power grids and highway networks, or between water resource facilities and power facilities.

The author is director of the Institute for Foreign Policy Studies at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.

Source: Global Times