Brazil and China have agreed to jointly build and launch remote sensoring satellites to compete with the United States, France and the Soviet Union in gathering earth data.
Brazilian authorities portrayed the agreement as the beginning of a new stage in relations between two developing regional powers, based on the idea that they can achieve major advances by teaming up on technology.
"Brazil and China, associated, can become equal to those countries that hold state-of-the-art technology," President Jose Sarney said in a nationwide radio message last week as he left for Beijing. Arriving there, he said, "The agreement has historical significance."
Sarney's six-day visit to China ends today. The satellite agreement was signed Wednesday by the foreign ministers of the two countries, with Sarney and Chinese President Yang Shangkun looking on.
The "China-Brazil earth resources satellite" is already being designed to gather information on crops, topography, geological formations, mineral deposits, weather patterns, water resources and deforestation.
Brazil currently contracts with U.S. Landsat for such services. France and the Soviet Union also have remote sensoring satellites.
The first Chinese-Brazilian satellite is to be launched from China in 1992. A second is scheduled to be launched two years later from Brazil.
Chinese-built Long March rockets have sent up more than 20 Chinese satellites of other kinds since the first launching in 1986. Brazil is developing rockets that officials say will be capable of launching satellites in 1991.
According to the Brazilian Institute for Space Research, which will participate in the joint satellite project, the satellites will weigh 2,860 pounds each. The technology will be 42% Brazilian and 58% Chinese, with Brazil contributing expertise in computers and electronics and China providing most of the technology for control, propulsion and optics.
China is to pay $105 million of the project's estimated costs and Brazil $45 million. They will sell observation services to other countries and share the revenue, according to the agreement.
"This is the most important scientific agreement that Brazil has ever signed with another nation," said Luis Henrique Silveira, the Brazilian minister of science and technology, who accompanied Sarney to China. Silveira told Brazilian correspondents that knowledge acquired in the project will be useful in many other areas of development.
"The technological spin-off from the launching of the satellites is fantastic," he said.
The two countries also agreed to exchange technology for electrical energy, hydroelectric dams, transportation, industry and medicine.
China and Brazil, the biggest and most populous countries of Asia and Latin America, broke diplomatic relations in 1964 after a right-wing military coup in Brazil. Relations were resumed in 1974.