A recent agreement to build a nuclear power plant in Argentina is the latest effort by China to engage with Latin American countries using their advanced clean energy technology, part of a broader push to expand its influence in the region.
The plant for USD 8 billion, known as Atucha III, will use China’s home-grown Hualong One design. Located near Lima – about 100 km (62 miles) northwest of the capital Buenos Aires – it will be Argentina’s fourth nuclear power plant and will have an installed capacity of 1.2 gigawatts and an initial life of 60 years.
Beijing and Buenos Aires agreed to collaborate on the project back in 2015, but progress had stalled until the contract was signed between the state-owned China National Nuclear Corporation and Nucleoelectrica Argentina on 31 January.
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Days later, Argentina agreed to join China’s global Belt and road initiative – the first major Latin American country to do so – with President Alberto Fernandez signing a memorandum of understanding during a visit to Beijing.
Argentine President Alberto Fernandez poses for a photo with Chinese leader Xi Jinping before their meeting in Beijing on Sunday. Photo: AP alt = Argentine President Alberto Fernandez poses for a photo with Chinese leader Xi Jinping before their meeting in Beijing on Sunday. Photo: AP>
Meet Fernandez on Sunday, Chinese President Xi Jinping said the two nations should push existing hydropower and rail projects forward and deepen cooperation on trade, industry, infrastructure and investment, according to the Xinhua State News Agency.
The two nations also agreed to work together on green development and the digital economy, as well as in the aerospace and agricultural industries.
Fernandez was in Beijing too Winter Olympicsan event that many world leaders have rejected because of concerns over China’s human rights record.
Cui Shoujun, a professor at Renmin University of China in Beijing, said joining the belt and the road during the Games was a “high-profile” move from Argentina that signaled a desire to strengthen diplomatic and economic ties with China.
“This was a strategic choice of theirs,” he said.
Experts say that since Argentina aims to achieve CO2 neutrality in 2050 – 10 years before China’s goals – it needs foreign investment and cutting-edge clean energy technology to cope with the transition.
China is seen as a promising investor and partner. Although it is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, it has also become the world leader in renewable energy capacity – solar, wind, hydropower – as well as nuclear power and electric vehicles.
Argentina has policies in place to change its energy consumption by seeking foreign investment in its wind, solar, small-scale hydropower and bioenergy sectors, according to Juliana Gonzalez Jauregui, a researcher at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences. It is also looking for investors to develop alternative energies such as nuclear power plants, large hydropower plants and hydrogen power.
Argentina’s move to join the belt and the road could help China – seeking to expand its presence in Latin America – take a larger role in the country’s renewable energy sector, Jauregui wrote in a paper on the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace website in December.
China has already made significant investments in the sector. They include the 300 megawatt Cauchari solar plant in Argentina’s northernmost province of Jujuy, which opened in 2020 and is one of the region’s largest. The Export-Import Bank of China financed 85 percent of the $ 390 million project, while the Jujuy government provided the rest through a green bond.
In the wind sector, China’s leading wind turbine manufacturer Goldwind has acquired four wind farms in southern Chubut province and one in the north near Miramar in Buenos Aires province. All are now in commercial operation.
But some Chinese energy projects have encountered opposition from residents and environmental groups, including the Hualong One nuclear power plant. The original plan to build it in Rio Negro was thwarted by civil society groups, and the province passed a law banning it.
A $ 4.7 billion Chinese hydropower project in Santa Cruz in the south has also been controversial. The project, carried out by a consortium led by the state-run China Gezhouba Group, has been widely criticized for its negative environmental and social impacts. In December, the funding agreement was suspended and work on the dams has been halted, The Diplomat website reported.
Antonio Hsiang, professor at the La Academia Nacional de Estudios Politicos y Estrategicos (ANEPE) in Chile, said that environmental issues were a major issue for Chinese investment in Latin America.
“You’ve seen a few successful cases, but there are far more failed projects due to opposition from local residents,” he said.
There is also pressure from the United States as China seeks to expand its influence in Latin America, a region that the United States sees as its “backyard.”
“There has clearly been pressure and a threat from the United States since 2017 – in some cases explicitly, in some others implicitly – not to deepen ties with China,” said Enrique Dussel Peters, head of the Center for Sino-Mexican Studies at National Autonomous University of Mexico.
“For third countries and regions … they need to be more and more pragmatic about specific OFDIs. [outward foreign direct investment] and infrastructure projects: from 5G for motorways, ports, airports and energy-related projects. “
This article originally appeared in South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice that has reported on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore SCMP app or visit the SCMPs Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.
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