South Africa has become one of a select group of countries to enter a partnership with China encouraging citizens to share knowledge and ideas with each other. The US, Russia, UK, France and Indonesia have similar agreements with the Asian superpower.
The South Africa-China High Level People-to-People Exchange Mechanism (PPEM) will help both countries exchange information, identify common opportunities and create strategies and objectives to their mutual benefit.
“Often called soft diplomacy, learning about each other’s world view, belief systems and way of life is a critical part of creating a better world for all,” Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa said at the programme’s recent launch.
The exchange will allow people employed in the areas of society, culture, economy, science and technology to work more closely together.
As Deputy Minister in the Presidency Buti Manamela explained: “If we do not strengthen relations at the level of people-to-people, then all other agreements become of no consequence because it is people who should drive these.”
Science and technology boosted
Importantly, the PPEM will strengthen ties between the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology. The agreement envisions 15 new research and development (R&D) projects, including a Big Data programme in the information technology sector.
The National Research Foundation will manage most of the new initiatives, including a Young Scientist Exchange Programme. Shared research projects in biotechnology, new materials and advanced manufacturing, and information technology are also in the pipeline.
A new joint mining and minerals research centre will focus on cutting-edge R&D and innovation, with the aim of commercialising any shared developments.
High-tech science park
The departments of Science and Technology (DST) and Higher Education (DHT) have partnered with the Chinese research institution Torch to build a high-tech park in Gauteng. There are plans for three research centres – DST and DHT are conducting feasibility and financial sustainability studies – which need to be within 50 kilometres of research institutions and resource pools.
At the launch of the new scientific cooperation agreement, Minister Naledi Pandor said: “Our goal is to develop in South Africa, through close cooperation with China, a science park that will become an instrument for inclusive growth and accelerated transformation of our economy.
“Our efforts are inspired and informed by China’s tremendous success in building science parks to drive innovation.”