South America is embracing Beijing’s science silk road

Source: Nature

Even before Chinese President Xi Jinping unveiled the monumental trade plan now known as the Belt and Road Initiative to the rest of the world, he was already selling elements of it to astronomers.

Mónica Rubio, president of the Chilean Society of Astronomy in Santiago, vividly recalls sitting in a packed auditorium in August 2012 when Xi made his pitch during the opening address at a meeting of the International Astronomical Union in Beijing.

Xi was still vice-president of China at the time and was a year away from announcing his ambitious trade plan — a venture later named One Belt, One Road. But when he spoke to the world’s astronomers, he outlined an expansive view of China and its connections with the rest of the globe, through both economic development and cooperation in science and technology. These would later be enshrined in the even larger Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which now extends across much of the world. Rubio, an astronomer at the University of Chile in Santiago, says that Xi talked about investment, supporting scientists and plans for global development in astronomy with large telescopes. “He offered an aggressive approach that no one had anticipated.”