Cambodia to buy Chinese satellite as relations tighten on Belt and Road Initiative


WASHINGTON —  China Great Wall Industry Corp. landed a new satellite order Jan. 11 on the back of a bilateral meeting between Chinese and Cambodian officials that included an agreement to increase trade between the two countries.

The Chinese satellite manufacturer inked a “framework agreement” with the Royal Group of Cambodia, an investment firm with companies in transportation, telecommunications and other fields, to build and launch a communications satellite called Techo-1.

CGWIC will also provide the launch, ground systems, arrange insurance and facilitate technology transfer for its Cambodian customer.

The satellite deal is one of 19 “cooperation documents” that include agreements on agriculture, education, medical care and infrastructure as Cambodia aligns major national development programs to coordinate with China’s Belt and Road international trade-route program.

Providing a satellite plus launch, teleport infrastructure and other assistance as a single package is a market strategy CGWIC is starting to wield with some power. CGWIC employed a similar turnkey approach to win a 2017 contract to build and launch the Indonesian Palapa-N1 satellite.

Some other CGWIC customers (Laos, Pakistan and Belarus) all fall along China’s proposed Belt and Road trade and infrastructure development paths by coincidence, according to the company, but Cambodia’s Techo-1 is the first that explicitly links the initiative to a satellite procurement.  

Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a joint document with China released Jan. 11, called for the accelerated synchronization of Chinese and Cambodian development plans “to fully implement the Outline Plan for Jointly Promoting Cooperation on the Belt and Road Initiative, and to concretely promote production capacity and investment cooperation.”

“The project will be conducive to enhancing the traditional friendship between China and Cambodia, helping to promote the construction of the ‘One Belt and Road’ spatial information corridor and enhancing the level of connectivity between China and Cambodia and the [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] region,” CGWIC said in a Chinese-language statement.

Both sides also agreed to bolster trade to meet a predetermined goal of $6 billion in trade volume by 2020.

CGWIC’s success in Cambodia follows on the heels of a two-satellite order from Nigerian satellite operator NigComSat. Nigerian minister of communications Adebayo Shittu said CGWIC and China’s Export Import Bank agreed to pay for the $550 million pair in exchange for equity in NigComSat, according to local news outlet Punch Nigeria. Shittu gave a goal of finalizing the agreement by the end of the month.

Assuming the NigComSat order closes, CGWIC will have secured three out of four geostationary telecommunications satellite orders placed this year. The fourth, Intelsat’s Galaxy-30 satellite, went to U.S. manufacturer Orbital ATK.

China and France also tightened ties in space this week with a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on “climate actions and space exploration” signed by the French space agency CNES president Jean-Yves Le Gall and the acting administrator of the China National Space Administration (CNSA) Wu Yanhua. French President Emmanuel Macron and Chinese President Xi Jinping attended the signing, which emphasized sharing data from the Chinese-French Oceanic Satellite, or CFOSat, along with other space-focused climate initiatives. Macron also visited the CFOSat satellite at a CNSA facility in China.

In the commercial sector, French satellite operator Eutelsat stitched itself into the Belt and Road program through an MoU with mobile operator China Unicom Jan. 9 to focus on satellite communications opportunities in the Asia Pacific, particularly through the Eutelsat-172b satellite launched in June. The companies agreed to explore inflight connectivity business with the satellite, as well as to consider “Cooperation to further develop satellite communication services across the globe.”