Buenos Aires Times

argentina ADMIRAL Craig Faller

Top US military chief warns of Chinese activity at Patagonia space station

Newly appointed US Southern Command chief presents report warning of activity at a Chinese base in Argentina's southern Neuquén province.

Tuesday 12 February, 2019
China's deep space ground station in Neuquén province.
China's deep space ground station in Neuquén province. Foto:Via Perfil

Argentina is engulfed in a new conflict over military interests involving China and the United States, this time over a Chinese space station in Neuquén province.

On February, the newly appointed United States Southern Command chief, Admiral Craig Faller, warned Congress that the base in Patagonika presents risks to global security.

“Beijing could be in violation of the terms of its agreement with Argentina to only conduct civilian activities and may have the ability to monitor and potentially target US, allied, and partner space activities,” Faller said in written testimony to the Armed Services Committee of the US Senate.

Admiral Faller said he was concerned the Chinese military could monitor and target the US from its base in Neuquén, Foreign Policy reported this week. Faller added perceived threats to intellectual property, private data and state secrets as among his concerns.

The base is subject to little Argentine oversight and both President Mauricio Macri and former foreign minister Susana Malcorra have admitted the country has little physical control over the area.

US military and intelligence officials are said to have grown increasingly concerned about the high-security 200-hectare compound, where China operates a powerful 16-story antenna.

The base was crucial to China's landing of a spacecraft on the dark side of the moon in January, according to reports in state-sponsored Chinese media outlets.

Part of the concerns in Washington, according to Argentine investigator Esteban Tablon, is China's growing interest in challenging Washington's space dominance.

"The definition of military activity by the United States is questionable since it's based on the rules they impose," he told the Perfil newspaper, recognising however that the base "has huge capacity to detect secret military satellites."

"The threat to the United States is being challenged. They [the US] define space geo-strategy and China has come along to challenge it, commercially, on earth and on the moon," Tablon said in reference to China's Chang'e 4 spacecraft which landed on the dark side of the moon in January.

He considered US concern over the facility as "understandable" since Beijing has "managed to put on this continent, on almost the same meridian as New York, high-sensitivity technology to detect signals that threaten it in terms of its balance of power."

The base is located 20 kilometres from the town of Bajada de Agrio in Neuquén province and was built following an agreement in 2015 with then president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Chinese premier Xi Jingping.

- TIMES/PERFIL

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