Reporter Holly Chik looks at Chinese-Thai cooperation in cutting-edge technology and fundamental science. Beijing’s effect on Bangkok as a result of the Belt and Road Initiative ranges from fusion energy to smart city AI. She examines cooperative physics research initiatives in the first article of the series. Chayanit Asawatangtrakuldee, a physicist from Thailand, is one of the 700 scientists from across the world working on the Jiangmen Underground Neutrino Observatory in China, which is slated to become the largest neutrino detector in the world. The $300 million Juno facility is being built in southern China, 700 meters (3,000 feet) underground, to collect the microscopic, ghost-like particles that travel through our bodies in trillions per second. It is scheduled to start running in June.
The experiment, a plastic sphere 13 stories tall that will be filled with 20,000 tonnes of a unique liquid and submerged in 35,000 tonnes of pure water, has required the cooperation of multiple nations. In an interview in Bangkok, Chayanit from Chulalongkorn University said, “We helped the magnetic field to be implanted inside the Juno experiment when they started to explore how to cancel out the Earth’s magnetic field [which interferes with the detection of neutrinos].” She also worked on a component of the detector called a photomultiplier, which is used to boost the signal emitted by the particles.
About 300 of Juno’s almost 700 members come from 78 different institutions outside of China. With more than 80 researchers participating, Italy is the project’s largest overseas partner. Numerous researchers from Germany, France, and Russia have also contributed equipment or electronics to these projects. Our nation is little, according to Chayanit. “We lack the resources to host it and we are unable to construct it on our own. For major projects, we require worldwide cooperation. She also collaborates with CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, which runs the biggest and most potent particle accelerator in the world.
Located in Switzerland, the Large Hadron Collider costs $9 billion and is made up of a 27 kilometer (16.78 mi) ring of superconducting magnets. In 2019, Thailand invested 1.14 percent of its GDP (gross domestic product) in R&D. In that year, the average for the entire world was 2.33 %. Elsevier, the largest publisher of scientific material in the world, reported that China was Thailand’s fourth-largest science collaborator in the previous five years, trailing only the United States, Japan, and Britain. According to the report, there were approximately 900 scientific papers with Thai and Chinese co-authors in 2017 and 1,856 in 2018. They worked together primarily on research projects in the fields of biology, agriculture, and medicine as well as physics, astronomy, and medicine.
Thailand is a crucial component of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, according to Anders Karlsson, vice-president of global strategic networks (Asia-Pacific) at Elsevier. He made this claim in reference to a meeting last month between President Xi Jinping and Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, during which they agreed to increase investment in high-tech sectors like the green economy and artificial intelligence. “China is striving to strengthen links in higher education and science with the Belt and Road Initiative,” he added, noting that the Chinese Academy of Sciences had opened its first overseas innovation cooperation center in Bangkok and that about 30 Confucius centers had been set up in Thailand.
The Belt and Road Initiative is an international trade-development initiative that has invested in infrastructure projects, primarily in underdeveloped nations, including roads, ports, airports, trains, and power plants. Recent years have seen a lot of attention focused on China’s extensive network of Confucius Institutes, which are government-sponsored soft power outposts, amid claims from the West that it spreads propaganda abroad. China’s first overseas vocational school, which began six years ago and is named after master carpenter and innovator Lu Ban, is likewise located in Thailand. In order to teach railroad technicians, the Lu Ban High-Speed Railway Institute was established in northeastern Thailand in 2019. According to Karlsson, “the US understandably regards this as a development of some worry.” Thailand continues to be the US’s greatest scientific collaborator and is a critical partner for the US in the area.
Participating in foreign collaborations, according to Polkit Sangvanich, dean of science at Chulalongkorn University, is essential for Thai scientists. He declared, “We have people and the expertise. But starting or creating significant projects on our own is challenging. Even for one large country, it is difficult. According to Polkit, it is “impossible to install devices like those used in the Juno and CERN investigations everywhere since they’re incredibly expensive.” We’ll have to split the resources, he replied. He said that Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand had been instrumental in the advancement of many Chinese-led initiatives in which Thai scientists had participated, such as the Juno and CERN experiments and missions to the South Pole. It would have been challenging for us to enter them if she had not been the beginning point [for international cooperation),” he said.
The princess would tour new initiatives, alliances, or research centers around the globe to see whether Thai scientists could participate, according to Chayanit. When she returns to Thailand, Chayanit added, “she searches universities for specialists in the subjects and brings them to the initiatives.” “We must report on the status of each project annually. It goes further than that. She continues to be interested and checks in. Princess Sirindhorn has worked to advance Sino-Thai relations in areas like diplomacy and the arts for almost four decades. Thai and Chinese officials have long stated that the two nations “are as close as one family.” According to Chayanit, who obtained her PhD in elementary particle physics from Peking University in 2015, “we always treat Chinese people as friends and colleagues.” “We never face off. Together, we work and have fun. Polkit agreed, noting that Chinese researchers were “open-minded” about including Thai colleagues in their initiatives. We’re great tagalongs, he said. “Being a rival serves no purpose. We develop into a network and a partner. It’s better this way, in my opinion.