Chinese President Xi Jinping addressing the opening ceremony of the China-SA Scientists High-Level Dialogue in Pretoria on July 24 2018. Picture: SUPPLIED
Chinese President Xi Jinping addressing the opening ceremony of the China-SA Scientists High-Level Dialogue in Pretoria on July 24 2018. Picture: SUPPLIED

Cooperation in science, technology and innovation is an integral part of China-South Africa comprehensive strategic partnership. In 1999, only one year following the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, China and South Africa inked an agreement on intergovernmental cooperation in science and technology, and established a mechanism of joint commission on science and technology cooperation. Over the past years, China and South Africa have been working to break new ground on the approach of cooperation, consolidate the foundation of cooperation following the principle of the complementary advantages and win-win cooperation. Remarkable achievements have been made, especially in the advanced technology fields and industrial application. The cooperation in science, technology and innovation (STI) has become the driving force of a China-South Africa partnership of mutual benefit. It also highlights the high-level, strategic and guiding characteristics of China-South Africa relations, and has been fully affirmed by the two Presidents.

In July 2018, Chinese President Xi Jinping successfully paid a state visit to South Africa. During his visit, President Xi and President Cyril Ramaphosa jointly toured the Exhibition of the Achievements of China-South Africa Science, Technology and Innovative Cooperation. Then they attended and addressed the opening ceremony of the China-South Africa Scientists High-Level Dialogue.

1. Five highlights of the China-South Africa STI Cooperation

Joint academic research in multiple fields has gained fruitful achievements. Since 1998, the number of scientific papers jointly published by researchers from South Africa and China (excluding any third country) in the international journals has raised steadily, totalling 1,042, covering a wide range of key subjects, including engineering, chemistry, physics and mathematics.

For example, in astronomy, both China and South Africa are members and sponsors of the SKA organisation. The prototype of the SKA dish designed and produced by China was delivered to the SKA site in South Africa in the Northern Cape Province in July for assembly and testing. In the field of palaeontology research, a new hypothesis for the early origin of the Anomodontia had been proposed by Chinese and South African scholars. In mining research, a green flotation reagent has been developed successfully, and has been applied in a super molybdenum Lu Ming mining plant in China.

Efforts have been made to enhance practical STI cooperation. Over the recent years, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) of South Africa and the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) of China have funded more than 100 projects of the intergovernmental joint research projects, which has significantly promoted the establishment of the partnership network between research institutes in the two countries. In transportation, information, astronomy, and biology, the universities or research institutions of the two countries have jointly established research centres or laboratories to build platforms for in-depth cooperation. On September 14, DST and MOST launched the first China-South Africa Joint Research Centre on the Development and Utilisation of Mineral Resources, and the establishment of the Joint Research Centre on Forestry Biotechnology has made positive progress, which will lay a solid foundation for long-term cooperation.

Joint training programmes have strengthened the foundation for long-term innovation cooperation. While the universities and research institutions of the two countries actively carry out joint training of students, short-term co-research, professional training and other forms of training cooperation, innovative enterprises have also played an important role in talents training. For instance, Huawei has established Huawei Training Centre in South Africa in 2008 and has so far trained 20,000 ICT professionals for the country. It further established the first Southern Africa Huawei Authorised Information and Network Academy (HAINA) in South Africa in 2015. In the past 3 years, over 100 South African students have finished their programs in HAINA. China and South Africa launched the Young Scientist Exchange Programme in July 2018 to fund the first batch of 5-10 outstanding South African young scientists to carry out full-time research work for a period of 6 or 12 months in Chinese host institutes.

Remarkable progress has been made in the sharing of advanced technology for social and economic development. South Africa's advanced technologies such as transportation, forestry health, agriculture, and mine safety have been promoted and applied in China. For example, the green recycling materials and technologies of rubber asphalt developed by South Africa is successfully applied to the construction of Airport Highway of China's Beijing Capital International Airport in 2008. The highway still maintains a good condition today. The new disease-resistant varieties selected by the China-South Africa cooperation have been proved effective on the control of Chinese eucalyptus plantations. Professor Mike Wingfield of the University of Pretoria won the Chinese Government Friendship Award in 2017 for his outstanding contribution to China in forest health cooperation. Over the past 20 years, five South African experts have been awarded this honour, the highest honour of the Chinese government for foreign experts.

China's StarTimes Media (SA) trains SA operational and technical personnel. Picture: SUPPLIED
China's StarTimes Media (SA) trains SA operational and technical personnel. Picture: SUPPLIED

China's new technologies such as resource satellites and Internet services are also widely used in South Africa. For instance, the ground system of the China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellite 04 in South Africa was launched into operation in 2015. It receives about 5GB of satellite data per day and serves 13 countries including South Africa, which has been widely used in flood monitoring, land use and others. Tencent has teamed up with Naspers to introduce social networking service offered by WeChat, including TV-online voting services, mobile payments, first social media streaming television channel in South Africa, etc. Alibaba cooperated with the South African payment firm Zapper to allow 10,000 South African merchants to accept Alipay since August 2017 to provide convenient payment services.

The cooperation in high-tech industries continues to grow with strong momentum. In the high-tech industries such as ICT, digital technology, renewable energy, and automobile manufacturing, Chinese companies have taken root in South Africa through cooperation with local enterprises, providing new impetus to South Africa's economic and social development. In 2012, Huawei took the lead to introduce the world's leading 4G (LTE) technology to South Africa, becoming an important partner of major telecom operators, serving more than 40-million South African users by its products and solutions. In May 2018, Huawei and MTN cooperated to launch the first 5G outdoor test in Africa, which would help South Africa's 5G development. Cooperated with local government, Hikvision installed 600 sets of its video surveillance equipment at the key areas such as communities, roads, and parking lots in Cape Town. Since the launch of this successful project three years ago, the coverage areas of the city has witnessed a significantly reduced crime rate. Longyuan De Aar and De Aar 2 North wind power projects were fully commissioned and successfully put into commercial operation since October 2017. By 30 June 2018, the two power projects generate 495-million kWh electricity, equivalent to reducing 476,500 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, providing continuous clean energy for South Africa.

2. The great potential and promising future of China-South Africa STI cooperation

In the face of new opportunities and challenges brought by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, China has proposed to build an innovation-oriented country and expand STI open cooperation, and South Africa is committed to strengthening STI cooperation to better cope with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In the speech on the opening ceremony of the China-South Africa Scientists High-Level Dialogue, President Xi Jinping emphasised that both China-South Africa and China-Africa science and technology cooperation is faced with important new opportunities. President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed that China is a reliable science and research cooperation partner of South Africa. At the new historical starting point, the two leaders reached the consensus that China and South Africa should continue to promote growth through further strengthening STI cooperation.

South Africa regards STI as one of the policy priorities of national development. The new draft White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation developed by DST recently presents the vision as science, technology and innovation enabling sustainable and inclusive South African development in a changing world and regards international STI cooperation as an important path to promote science, technology innovation. In the meantime, South Africa focuses on the leverage of resources and geographical advantages. In several fields including astronomy, palaeontology and paleoanthropology, mineral resources and development, its research is at the world's leading position. Over the past two decades, South Africa has made important contributions to the African and global S&T development in domains ranging from the fight against infectious diseases, the promotion of clean and renewable energy, the sustainable management of natural resources, to the development of advanced manufacturing technologies. 

The number of scientific papers jointly published in international journals by researchers from China and SA – excluding any third country – on a wide range of subjects has been rising steadily. Picture: SUPPLIED
The number of scientific papers jointly published in international journals by researchers from China and SA – excluding any third country – on a wide range of subjects has been rising steadily. Picture: SUPPLIED

China has implemented the innovation and development strategy and continues to focus on STI. Some remarkable achievements have been achieved in the past five years, and the S&T capacity has been greatly enhanced. In 2017, China has invested 1.75- trillion Yuan on research and development (R&D), equivalent to 2.12% of the total GDP. China ranks the world's second place in terms of the number of science papers citation in international journals. China also patents the largest number of inventions and authorises the largest number of patents in the world. China has made remarkable achievements covering satellite navigation, oil and gas development, high-speed railway, seawater desalination, rice breeding, vaccine research and development, providing a broad prospect for future China-South Africa STI cooperation.

Moving forward, China and South Africa will adhere to the principle of complementary advantages and win-win cooperation under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative and the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, and continue to strengthen the open cooperation in innovation capabilities, actively build new platforms for joint innovation, boost exchanges among young scientists, deepen exchanges and cooperation, and actively participates in the global innovation network, so as to push forward China-South Africa STI cooperation. The two countries will join hands to welcome the Fourth Industrial Revolution, inject strong momentum into the economic and social development, and embark on a path of win-win and mutually beneficial cooperation. Together, China and South Africa will contribute more to a better world by building a new type of international relations featuring mutual respect, equality and justice and win-win cooperation and building a community with shared future for mankind. 

This article was paid for by the People's Daily Online SA.