Fear And Opportunity: A View From Chita, On The Russian-Chinese Border

Bad blood abounds along the Chinese-Russian border. But the lives of the borderland’s Russian and Chinese residents are also intertwined. In the Russian city of Chita, university students have the option to study German or French, but tend to prefer Manda

A tale of two bears: In the Chinese city of Manzouli on the Russian border (dobbs383)
A tale of two bears: In the Chinese city of Manzouli on the Russian border (dobbs383)
Etienne Dubuis

CHITA -- So here they are, the Chinese people everyone has been talking about since we left Moscow. The great demographic "danger" that threatens Russia's eastern borders.

We had to wait until we reached the Ulan-Ude bus station to finally see them. Eight unknowing "ambassadors' of the world's most populated country on board with us. They are heading home to Manchuria, about 700 miles away. We're heading to the Russian border city of Chita. But we're all sharing the same minibus. Maybe because we too are foreigners.

This trip is going to be interesting. The young Russian who places himself behind the wheel of the minibus greets the Chinese passengers by shouting at them. The first of the Chinese people to speak to us says that Ulan-Ude, the southern Russian city we are just leaving, "isn't that great."

An hour into the journey we cross a beautiful steppe at sunset. The vehicle suddenly pulls off on the side of the road. One of the minibus' tires has just burst. As our driver quickly changes the tire, the passengers watch his every move. We get back on the road but soon stop again, this time at a gas station. Soon after we stop a third time, at a roadside restaurant to have a hot meal. In the parking lot, one of the Chinese passengers bursts out angrily: "We pull over too often."

He's right. The young Russian drives too fast and takes too many breaks. At 5 a.m., while he is out eating without having warned the passengers beforehand, a young Chinese man takes out his walkman and plays one of his country's songs on a pair of portable speakers. The melodious female voice contrasts with the drum-based Russian music usually played on the minibus. When the driver returns, before starting the engine, he turns up the volume of his radio in order to drown out the Chinese song.

We enter the city of Chita under the dawn fog. Once the final destination is reached, the driver climbs on the roof of the vehicle and begins to throw down his passengers' luggage. The Chinese passengers remain undisturbed and immediately form a human chain to catch their bags and pass them to their respective owners.

Language as sign of times

Lina Razumova, a French teacher, welcomes us into the College of Foreign Languages at the University of Chita. She shows us around. The place is dark at this time of year because of the summer holidays. The English, French and German lessons are all given on the ground floor. The first floor is entirely dedicated to teaching Chinese.

"Look," says Lina, "you have pictures of China everywhere here." She says it surprised her a bit at first, but now she's used to seeing the images. "There wasn't much we could do about it. More and more young Russian people from around here think China holds a future for them," says Lina. "Why would they spend all their money to go to France to study a language that for them, belongs to the past?"

Lina knows China quite well, especially the border city of Manzhuli, which she visited several times. "In 1990, in Manzhuli, Russians used to sell households appliances and buy a few clothes. Today, they sell nearly nothing and buy everything, even computers and television sets."

We speak with one of Lina's colleagues, Oleg Terechin, who admits that "yes, he fears Chinese expansionism." On Chinese maps, borders have been redrawn to now include Russia's Baikal Lake. Sometimes they show Chinese territory as extending all the way to the Ural Mountains. "They will come and settle in our country without declaring war on us," says Oleg. "They will slowly infiltrate. There are more than a billion of them and they are smart. "

Lina says her colleague is going too far, and that Russia is a strong enough country to defend its own interests. But Oleg will hear none of it. Upon leaving us, he reveals that he did his national service as a border police officer back in the mid 1970s. At the time, Russia and China were locked in a bitter dispute over the Amur River, also known as the Heilong.

"I spent two years being afraid the Chinese army would jump out at us," he remembers. "Fortunately, nothing happened"

Read the original article in French

Photo - dobbs383

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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

CAUCHARI — 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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