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Developing together for the benefit of all
( 2003-10-16 08:47) (China Daily)

Doctor Swig Pent-ont was teaching as an associate professor at the Maejo University in Chiangmai, Thailand, when he attended an agricultural ecosystem workshop held by the Xishuangbanna Tropic Arboretum of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) nine years ago.

Coming from a country that shares a similar climate and geographic conditions with the bordering Yunnan Province of China, where the arboretum - a botanical garden - is located, he was keen to hear the experiences of his Chinese counterparts in the protection of the agricultural ecosystem in tropical mountainous areas.

Yunnan, particularly the tropical Xishuangbanna region, is regarded as the wildlife kingdom of China yet its diversified ecosystem has been threatened by the overuse of natural resources and the increasing population.

Chinese researchers at the arboretum in Yunnan have been conducting pioneering research over decades to develop approaches to maintain a balance between local wellbeing and the protection of the fragile environment.

Inspired by the success of the ecological arboretum protection project in the Simao region, Swig went home with the ambition of carrying out a similar project in Thailand's northern mountainous region.

His drive later turned into the Ban-pong Royal Initiated Project and was carried out under the auspices of the Thai royal family.

"He was very happy that his project could be carried out," recalled Xu Xiangyu, a research fellow at the arboretum who was once involved in the workshop.

"He informed us shortly after he got the news and we were happy for him, too."

Sharing goals

Sharing Swig's experiences were more researchers from developing countries who attended the annual workshop. It also allowed them to find scientific inspiration and solutions to their own research problems at home.

The workshop is only part of the scientific co-operative efforts between China and other developing countries that have produced tangible benefits for all.

Third-world scientific co-operation is made possible and viable because of the same interests they share and similar problems they face.

"We share the same goal and language in terms of South-South scientific co-operation," said Lu Yongxiang, the CAS president.

China and other developing countries face similar economic and social issues, such as conflicts between economic development and environmental protection.

Such discord has, in a way, become so acute in developing countries that their scientists must work together to find the answers, said Lu on the eve of the 2003 Beijing Meeting of the Third World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), which starts today.

More than 500 TWAS fellows and guests from 77 countries and regions are expected to attend the four-day event.

Meetings will be highlighted by the presence of President Hu Jintao, who will also deliver a speech and present TWAS awards at the opening ceremony, to be held this afternoon.

Hosted by CAS and several other Chinese scientific bodies, the forum looks to be an occasion where retrospection and forward-looking are both called for, as TWAS marks its 20th anniversary.

Founded in Trieste, Italy, in 1983 by a distinguished group of scientists from the developing world under the leadership of the late Nobel laureate Abdus Salam of Pakistan, TWAS has been pushing to promote scientific excellence in the developing world.

Two decades on, TWAS has grown into the principal international organization for promoting science.

Chinese scientists began to join TWAS shortly after it was founded and through it have carried out a wide range of scientific collaborations with counterparts from other developing countries.

Eighty-six Chinese scientists, most of whom are top in their research areas, have been elected fellows of TWAS to date.

Benefits for China

China has benefited from its involvement in TWAS-initiated activities.

By far, Chinese scientists, as a whole, have been the largest recipients of TWAS research grants. Scores of local research institutes have been named TWAS Advanced Research Centres or are regarded as excellent scientific centres for the hosting of researchers from other developing countries.

Seventeen Chinese researchers have been honoured by TWAS with various awards in basic and applied scientific research.

China, in return, has made donations to TWAS and helped train young people from other countries through various foundations, like CAS' South-South Co-operation Fund.

So far, China has funded more than 4,000 scientists from the developing world, like Swig, to do research or attend workshops in China, according to CAS statistics.

Lu said such co-operation has succeeded in promoting the research capacity of developing countries and popularizing the latest scientific knowledge.

"I think it is safe to say today that it would be impossible to hold any meaningful discussions over scientific issues of global concern without the involvement of scientists from developing countries," said Lu, who is also vice-president of TWAS.

The world has changed, however, and is different from 20 years ago, when it was dominated by two superpowers.

Lu insisted that third world scientific co-operation will continue to make great sense due to the distinctive research sources of different countries.

There are lots of research projects that are of local concern and cannot be carried out without using local resources. Scientists from the developing world can do first-class research in these areas.

"A positive situation can be achieved by scientists from the developing world if we can design good strategies of co-operative research that can make best the use of our indigenous resources," Lu said.

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