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ARGENTINA | 02-04-2024 18:43

Argentina's government considers inspection of Chinese space station in Neuquén

Echoing concerns of US officials, President Javier Milei's administration believes there are irregularities in contracts signed authorising the Espacio Lejano space station, a Chinese base in southern Neuquén province, as well as its activities.

President Javier Milei’s government is closely following the activity of China’s mysterious space station in Neuquén Province and plans to move forward with an inspection of the contracts that authorised its creation.

A high-level Cabinet source, cited by the Noticias Argentinas news agency, says the Milei administration wants to assess activity at the Espacio Profundo CLTC-CONAE-NEUQUEN Station, which China qualifies as “strictly scientific.”

“There’s something strange about the contracts in the base. They were given territory where Argentina can virtually not enter,” the same source specified about the Espacio Lejano Station, located north of Bajada del Agrio, in the so-called ‘Pampa de Pilmatué.’

Argentina’s government wants to check if the agreements are being observed. It may even consider a physical inspection of the base and its surroundings, according to local reports.

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

Regardless of the ideological discrepancies between Milei and Chinese Premier Xi Jinping, the libertarian leader’s government considers that “the contracts are unclear,” said the source.

“The contracts are not clear. I understand that, by contract, 10 percent of the used resources [of antenna time] must be used by Argentina. We want to make sure that is actually so,” the high-level official explained. 

The source also said: “Imagine the scandal this would be if [Argentina] had done this with the United States.”

The Chinese base is expected to be a key topic in meetings between Argentine officials and General Laura Richardson, the head of the US Southern Command, who arrives in Buenos Aires this week. She is expected to meet Cabinet Chief Nicolás Posse and Defence Minister Luis Petri while in Buenos Aires, though an encounter with President Javier Milei has not been confirmed.

The base was built following an agreement in 2015 with then-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Chinese President Xi. 

Negotiations between the CLTC China Satellite Launch and Tracking Control General and the CONAE National Space Activities Commission began five years earlier. The original plan was to construct the base in San Juan Province, though eventually this was ruled out due to seismic activity in the region.

Construction was finished in February 2017, during the government of former president Mauricio Macri and it was agreed that Argentina could access 10 percent of the antenna time to develop projects and improve regional and international cooperation. Milei’s government is expected to focus on this point to assess compliance. 

The station has an antenna with a 35-metre diameter aimed at deep space exploration missions and can look into distances over 300,000 km above Earth. It is one of three antennae that make up China’s deep space station network.

In 2019, amid concerns over activity in the region, Argentina’s Foreign Ministry and staff from the Comisión Nacional de Actividades Espaciales (CONAE) government agency visited the base with “a delegation of diplomatic representatives” that included US officials, said the Chinese Embassy in a statement.

Daniel Filmus, who served as Science, Technology & Innovation minister in former president Alberto Fernández’s administration, also toured the station facilities on April 4, 2022. 

 

– TIMES/NA

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