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[SANTIAGO] Chile, Colombia and Ecuador have strengthened their science and technology (S&T) collaboration with China by signing cooperation agreements over the last two weeks.

The agreements highlight China's growing interest in collaboration with Latin American countries at a similar stage of development to itself. They will involve investment in basic research in different fields.

They were signed during visits to the three countries by a 40-strong Chinese delegation headed by China's secretary of state, Liu Yandong, and including vice minister of S&T, Cao Jianlin.

The Chilean and Colombian agreements will focus on joint projects between research centres, universities and industry, including placements in China for postgraduate students.

Priority areas in both agreements include agriculture, information and communication technologies, and renewable energies, as well as anti-seismic engineering in Chile.

"Most Chilean buildings resisted February's very strong earthquake so China is interested in our anti-seismic technology. [And] we want to learn about their earthquake monitoring network before we set ours in place," María Teresa Ramírez, director of the international relations department at Chile's National Commission on Science and Technology (CONICYT), told SciDev.Net.

She added that the agreement is part of a plan to turn Chile into the regional platform from which Latin America can develop its relations with the Asia-Pacific region. It also "improves our ability to solve common problems with other Latin American countries in areas such as the environment, education and renewable energy," added Ramírez.

As part of the agreements China has offered Chilean universities new equipment worth around US$750,000 to replace instruments destroyed by the earthquake. It also gave the Colombian government US$200,000 to repair infrastructure damaged by torrential rains in November.

During the signing ceremony in Chile, Liu said that China wants to provide substantial support to basic scientific research, and that it wants to find ways to increase the energy efficiency of Latin American firms.

The China–Ecuador agreement focuses on cooperation in agricultural research, technology and training as well as developments in biotechnology aimed at family agriculture, which makes up 85 per cent of the country's farming land.

China has also donated US$2.9 million dollars to Ecuador for use in any science-related field.

Osvaldo Rosales, head of the International Commerce and Integration Division of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, told SciDev.Net: "The last decade saw a dramatic increase in Chinese–Latin American commerce and Chinese investment in our region. China intends to become a technological power by 2015 so it is looking for know-how in our region by signing bilateral agreements.

"Latin America should exploit this interest further by entering into regional S&T agreements that, by harnessing synergies, would make what we have to offer more attractive for China," he added.  

Four Latin American countries — Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Cuba — already have joint commissions on S&T cooperation with China, charged with drafting framework agreements, monitoring the implementation of specific accords and reviewing areas of cooperation.