Monday, May 27, 2024

ARGENTINA | 03-05-2024 16:28

Argentina's Foreign Minister Diana Mondino says 'Chinese people are the same'

During questioning about Beijing’s deep space station in Neuquén, Argentina’s foreign minister makes diplomatic faux pas by declaring that it is difficult to tell who is a citizen and who is a military officer because “all Chinese people are the same.”

Foreign Minister Diana Mondino has sparked criticism and controversy by declaring in an interview that “all the Chinese are the same the same.”

The extraordinary remark, delivered during an interview with the Clarín newspaper, came as she took questions about China’s mysterious deep space station in the south of Argentina. 

The Espacio Profundo CLTC-CONAE-NEUQUEN Station, located north of Bajada del Agrio, in the so-called ‘Pampa de Pilmatué,’ in Argentina’s south, has been at the centre of a geopolitical tug-of-war for months.

Variously described as a Chinese base, deep space observation centre and military installation, the site is the focus of diplomatic tensions, with the United States concerned about Beijing’s intentions and ongoings at the site.

Washington has questioned if the site has military implications and last month, Argentina’s new administration led by President Javier Milei made an inspection of the site to ascertain if China is sticking to the terms of the contract that allowed its construction.

Mondino, who is in Europe on an overseas visit, said during an interview in France on Thursday that Argentina’s government had been unable to tell if military personnel were engaged at the base in Neuquén Province.

"Those who went to investigate did not identify any military personnel," the foreign minister said

“They’re Chinese, they're all the same,” she told Clarín.

"Inspections have already been done at the Chinese and European space stations. The same team went to both and in the same week, those teams didn't notice anything unusual," Mondino continued.

The remarks were met with anger from the opposition, who accused Mondino of being xenophobic and discriminatory with her attitude, and of making statements unbecoming to her position as Argentina’s top diplomat.

On Friday, Mondino defended her blunder and denied they were discriminatory.

“What I mean is that there was nobody in uniform,” said the minister in a radio interview, referring to the inspection at the Espacio Lejano Station, located in Bajada del Agrio.

US military and intelligence officials have long been concerned about the high-security 200-hectare compound, where China operates a powerful 16-storey antenna. They have reiterated those thoughts to President Milei since he took office last December.

Consulted as to whether shea made a mistake in the way she spoke about the scientists and the rest of the staff working at the Chinese base in Patagonia, the official was surprised. 

“Why? They are all the same, they’re all civilians,” she stated.

“They are all equal, they are all civilians. We were talking about the visit to the Chinese space station in Neuquén,” she said, attempting to explain away her behaviour. “It was a visit that took place a few days ago. What I highlighted was the civilian nature of the staff, that there were no uniforms. Argentines were all the same, too, none in uniform.”

Mondino continued: “If we want to openly misinterpret something, it’s possible.” She refused to acknowledge that her remarks could be discriminatory.

Several opposition leaders came out to criticise the official and call for her sacking.

Social leader and former presidential hopeful Juan Grabois asked President Milei to remove her from her post.

“Not the money, the pearls or French perfume, the credentials, degrees or positions, nothing can erase the ignorance of a racist – it’s a disease of the soul. Her statements would be disgusting if she were a simple citizen, but as a foreign minister they become unusually serious,” he said in a post on the X social network.

“This lady cannot keep running our country’s foreign relations,” he continued. “Milei, if you owe something to Mondino, put her in the troll centre, but get her out of the Foreign Ministry and stop humiliating Argentina.”

“The Chinese people, particularly those residing in Argentina, should know that this dystopian character does not represent all Argentines. Many of us admire your thousand-year culture and the immense diversity it harbours,” Grabois concluded.

Mondino, Argentina’s top diplomat, had only just departed China, which she visited to boost investment and business ties. 

During the radio interview, Mondino called her trip “very positive”, and she revealed: “There was plenty of interest in understanding the economic and political process in Argentina after the inauguration of President Javier Milei.”

“Let’s not forget that Argentina has many contracts signed with Chinese companies, which the previous government [led by former president Alberto Fernández] had breached. We’re assessing which will continue and how, and how they will be renegotiated,” Mondino added.

The foreign minister also commented on Argentina's massive currency swap with China, which will need to be extended. 

“Why is this year of such great concern? It’s true that [former economy minister Sergio] Massa used it [the swap] out of proportion to intervene in the market, with a mechanism of extremely doubtful transparency,” she concluded





* This article was modified after an incorrect version of the story was initially published. We apologise for any inconvenience.

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