China’s new ‘springtime’ is here

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

Global Times, January 16, 2017

The year rolls round and as ever the Chinese New Year is upon us – this will be the Year of the Rooster, an animal noted for guarding its hens, a role that can be seen similar in China.

The Chinese New Year is a time of concern for all the population. Hundreds of millions of people will be moving along China’s railways, going from their daily jobs in factories and shops in cities back to their family homes to be reunited with loved ones. Those running the show, from the rail operators, to the station masters right up to ministers worry about the weather over which they have no control. They know that tempests, floods or heavy snow will disrupt tight train schedules, which, once upset, will take a few days to unravel. But that is the nature of all tight planning. Meanwhile those back home will worry about getting their steamed buns and jujube cakes ready for the celebrations – yet a few will worry about having no food.

China has made great strides since ratifying the UN Millennium Goals with their target date of 2015. Average wealth increased raising millions out of poverty across China, but some remain very poor. China has agreed to implement the follow-up targets, the UN Sustainable Development Goals, with the target date of 2030. Herein are plans to eradicate poverty and ensure a good education for everyone. China’s goal is to ensure equal opportunity for rural and urban children entering universities and further enhance national growth.

A vast number of other projects have come into fruition across China, helping it to spring forward. One, far above, is the Tiangong 2 space laboratory that presages the space station, Tiangong 3. As well as hosting regular human visitors, Tiangong 2 hosts several experiments. One is to test the EmDrive in space. It doesn’t require any propellant for propulsion, and hence it partially disobeys Newton’s Third Law that “…to each action there’s an equal and opposite reaction.” This drive has been replicated and tested on the ground, but not yet in space where it will be invaluable if it works. It gives a tiny thrust, but that is all that will be needed for interplanetary missions. And without any need for fuel the rocket can be built with greater safety for its human explorers.

Also being tested is a quantum entanglement emitter – a communicator akin to a Jules Verne fantasy. These high-tech experiments have been proved over short terrestrial distances, but now China is testing them from space to ground stations. Particles in quantum entanglement share a quantum state that collapses upon observation. This means that legitimate users of the quantum communications system will notice if they’ve been hacked due to another party viewing the transmission. Success would give China a secure communications system immune to eavesdropping and interference, which will have applications in finance, diplomacy and telecommunications. Plans are to expand the quantum communications lines between northern and southern China, to include a Sino-European quantum key distribution network in 2020, and a global system in 2030.

I wonder if, more grounded, China will soon introduce its maglev transport project. Its high-speed trains took decades to become the extensive network for shifting millions of passengers they are today. Relatively soon the globe will experience a scarcity of fossil fuels – due to ecological concerns, or quite possibly due to a lack of exploitable resources – so prices will rise quickly. The case can be made for moving toward fully electric transport systems with a maglev back-bone for long distance shipping of both passengers and goods. This will be a slow system to implement, but so was the steel wheels on today’s steel tracks, or earlier petrol-fuelled vehicles.

Turning now to Switzerland. First, President Xi Jinping will focus on his State visit. China is Switzerland’s third most important trading partner after the US and the EU. They have held bilateral relationships since 1950 and agreed to a free trade deal in 2013. This was extended in 2016 as an Innovative Strategic Partnership. There is niche market potential for both countries driven by high-quality Swiss services and innovative products. There is a feeling that this accord will be reinforced during President Xi’s visit, and new space will be opened for further cooperation.

As President Xi will be leading an 80-strong delegation, he is expected to present China as the foremost advocate of globalization. He will give a major address to reassure the international business community about his country’s “new normal” of slower economic growth. To support these assertions, it is likely the president will highlight the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the One Belt, One Road infrastructure initiative. These projects leverage Chinese economic strength throughout Asia, Africa and Central Asia, and indeed into the economies of Europe. As mentioned above, his government’s wide initiatives over the years have advanced China greatly – on humanitarian issues, as well as high-tech space ventures.

The time is propitious, it is almost springtime. The Chinese Spring Festival is nigh, and many projects are springing into action. They are apparently different, yet in their ways indicative of China’s wish to be a helpful, supportive and caring global player.

The author is founder and chairman of Horasis, a Swiss-based global visions community organization.