Even Scandinavia Can’t Get Along: On COVID's Cold Diplomacy

Even Scandinavia Can’t Get Along: On COVID's Cold Diplomacy
Carl-Johan Karlsson


What does it say at the bottom of a Norwegian ketchup bottle?

Opens at the other end.

As a Swede, I know about a hundred jokes like that, and it wasn't until I moved to Norway in my early twenties I realized Norwegians tell the exact same ones about Swedes.

This fraternal rivalry between Scandinavian neighbors came to mind this morning as I read a headline in Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter about "corona bullying." But the article wasn't about some schoolyard taunts or national chest-thumping, but rather a burgeoning erosion of longstanding cooperation on crucial matters of state between neighboring countries.

If such free and friendly countries can't make it work, what does it mean for international cooperation at large?

This last year has been fraught with sharp criticism between Northern experts and politicians, especially as Sweden has stuck to its light-touch containment strategy despite the region's highest COVID-19 death and case numbers. At the pandemic's deadly peak in May, Frode Forland, Norwegian Director of Infectious Diseases at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, said that his Swedish counterpart Anders Tegnell needed to be more humble in his approach; Tegnell snapped back saying it wasn't his job to review the Norwegian strategy.

Sweden's outspoken top epidemiologist Anders Tegnell in Stockholm in October — Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT/ZUMA

A recent poll now shows that 44% of Swedes believe Nordic cooperation has been harmed. The study was published days after the Swedish government announced that the armed forces would be assisting the police at the Norwegian and Finish border to enforce demands on COVID-19 tests before entry.

Many of the measures meant to curb the spread risk amplifying nationalism.

This deterioration of Nordic comity and limits on trade beg the question: If such free and friendly countries can't make it work, what does it mean for international cooperation at large?

Our tendency to search for scapegoats has been evident during pandemics of the past: As syphilis spread during the early 16th century, the illness was dubbed the French disease, the Spanish disease, or the Neapolitan disease, depending on where you were. Indeed, In the absence of adequate international collaboration, many of the measures meant to curb the spread (border controls, vaccine passports) risk amplifying the nationalism that was on the rise around the world before the pandemic struck.

As such, it should worry us that not only has a certain former American president chosen to refer to the Chinese virus, but that some of our Norwegian and Finnish neighbors have come to see COVID as the Swedish virus.

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

— Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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