Chinese Technology Kicks into High Gear Across Latin America
“I was surprised by the service,” Chilean Cristóbal Velásquez recently said about the Chinese ride-hailing app Didi, which in a short time has gained a firm foothold in Latin America.
“While it’s a relatively new app (here), it has spread quickly in Santiago and throughout the whole country,” offering a “safe and economical” alternative to standard ride-sharing services, Velásquez said.
Didi is a prime example of the kind of technology-driven services China is spearheading in Latin America today.
Andrés Bórquez, director of the Chinese Studies Center at the University of Chile, described Didi as the face of the “new wave” of Chinese business in Latin America, “based on the development of sophisticated products and services” to promote “innovations and solutions for smart cities.”
From the southern tip of Argentina to Mexico, Chinese technology is helping boost productivity and raise standards of living with innovations in transportation, agriculture, renewable energy, ecommerce and other sectors.
In Mexico City, for example, a fleet of 63 Chinese-made trolley buses are propelling the capital toward cleaner electromobility.
Manufactured by the Chinese company Yutong, the buses began circulating in early January along one of the city’s main arteries.
“Mexico City’s last trolley bus acquisition was 22 years ago, so this purchase is very important because it radically changes users’ experience,” said Guillermo Calderón, general director of the Mexico City Electric Transport Service.
These modern units can run for up to 75 kilometers on battery power, should overhead cables fail to operate, and emit no pollutants, an important factor given that Mexico City is one of the most polluted urban areas in the world, according to the World Air Quality Index.
The trolley buses are part of Mexico City’s Trolebici project, a $35 million scheme to improve cycling and pedestrian infrastructure.
City Mobility Secretary Andrés Lajous said that the Chinese-made vehicles were the best value for a city looking to improve commuter services.
The buses fit into Mexico City’s plans for future changes to its transportation network, because “they consume less electricity, and they have obstacle detectors and special alarms that alert the driver to cyclists,” Lajous said.
Ren Wenhui, Yutong’s commercial manager in Mexico, noted that the country’s capital is the first Latin American city to use the trolley buses, though the company’s electric and gas buses are already present on streets in central Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Peru.
“I am confident that there will be more clients in the future,” he said.
Meanwhile, Chinese expertise in ecommerce is helping Latin American exporters grow businesses by expanding their markets.
Andrés Díaz Bedolla, a member of Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba’s team in Mexico, said “we believe that everyone can be part of an open, smart, integrated, cooperative economy that also benefits everyone.”
Diaz recently led a panel discussion on ecommerce for some 50 business representatives in Mexico City, inviting them to join a free online community to receive consultancy.
The first Mexican products sold via Alibaba were avocados, which has been a great success.
Mexico registered some 303 million online purchases between January and September in 2019, a 53 percent increase over the same period of 2018, according to official data.
Farther south in Latin America, a China-backed renewable energy project is about to substantially increase Argentina’s power output.
Cauchari, South America’s largest solar park, is scheduled to come online in March, following a test phase.
“We are going to replace tons of carbon dioxide emissions with green energy through this plant, as many international organizations have already recognized,” said Luis González, technical adviser at Shanghai Electric Power Construction (SEPC), the company leading the facility’s construction.
In addition to helping Argentina meet its energy and environmental targets, “the plant is important for the progress of the families of the Puna (region), since it was built in an area that was practically free of development,” González said.
Led by SEPC and largely funded by the Export-Import Bank of China, Cauchari Solar Park is located atop a remote mountain peak 4,000 meters above sea level near Cauchari, a town in the province of Jujuy, which borders both Chile and Bolivia.
Divided into three smaller parks, each with a generating capacity of 100 megawatts, Cauchari features more than 1.18 million solar panels distributed across 800 hectares.
In neighboring Brazil, a bilateral initiative is underway to develop a variety of long-grain rice that will appeal to Chinese palates.
“Our type of rice is different from what the Chinese consumer prefers, which is why we want to develop hybrid rice in Brazil, so that we can supply this grain to China,” said Ivo Mello, a researcher at the Rice Institute of Rio Grande do Sul, who is working in cooperation with the Hunan Rice Research Institute.
Brazil and China are also cooperating in space.
The jointly developed China-Brazil Earth Resource Satellite-4A (CBERS-4A) was sent into orbit in December 2019, pushing forward aerospace cooperation between the two countries, according to the China National Space Administration.
The sixth satellite of a joint cooperation program, the CBERS-4A is designed to improve the Brazilian government’s ability to monitor the Amazon rainforest and environmental changes.
According to Marcos César Pontes, Brazil’s minister of Science, Technology, Innovation and Communications, cooperation between China and Brazil has contributed to international economic and social development.
“Throughout 2019, China and Latin America made progress in institutionalizing their ties through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a proposal that represents major opportunities for expanding bilateral trade and investment,” said Argentine academic Carla Oliva, coordinator of the China and Argentina Study Group at the National University of Rosario.
Paulina went on to say that “this new model of cooperation is interesting for both sides” as it offers Latin America access to advanced technologies and techniques “to boost local production, job creation and demand for local inputs.”
Crucially, “Chinese investments, especially in the areas of infrastructure and logistics, are fundamental to improving the competitiveness of local companies and the productivity of the economy,” Paulino said.